Sunday, 30 November 2014

Reflection for Advent Sunday

I’ve never really had an enough patience for bird watching or any great interest in becoming a Twitcher. Whilst on the Isle of Skye last year, however, I did find myself spending quite a number of hours sitting patiently looking out for a pair of Golden Eagles which had been spotted that day around the Quiraing Mountains at the top of the island.

As I reflect on that it occurred to me that the idea of the ‘twitcher’ is a good one to think about for the season of Advent which we begin today. 

A twitcher requires great patience. It requires you to keep very still; observing; waiting; watching.  And while it may seem very passive, there is in the watcher a gentle sense of excitement – that after much waiting the observer might be rewarded with something very special.

In Mark’s Gospel this morning we hear Jesus talking about a similar time of waiting.  But this is no hobby, and what is expected will change everything.  It is the purpose of the Advent season to keep us awake – on our toes – mindful that nothing in life is ever certain, even the moment when everything is gathered back to God.

The readings in Advent are full of those who are waiting.  John the Baptist looking for ‘the one who is to come’; a woman for her child; and a people for their King. All wait, all watch, and in this season of Advent we watch with them.

I think Advent is strange season. It is both hopeful and apocalyptic. It promises salvation and restoration, but it does so through events that often sound dreadful and even violent. It is described by Jesus as the birth pangs of the world, the onset of pain before the beginning of a life that is new.

So we wait and watch. We hear in the prayer for Advent Sunday a reminder to stay awake and keep alert. We are reminded that tomorrow holds no certainties and that even today our world might change in the blink of an eye.  And because of all this, despite the approaching festivities of Christmas, Advent is a sober season.

Much of this is taken up in Ann Lewin’s poem ‘Disclosure’ as she reflects on prayer:

Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher.
All you can do is be where he is likely to appear, and wait.
Often, nothing much happens;
there is space, silence and expectancy.
No visible sign, only the knowledge that he's been there and may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
you have been prepared.
But sometimes, when you've almost stopped expecting it,
a flash of brightness gives encouragement.

Advent advances into the growing darkness of winter.  It reminds us of the uncertain nature of the world, and of the hour of God’s coming.  But it also rewards the watcher – and gives the hope that the brightness of another Kingdom is never far from us.

Maggie McLean