Advent reflection: a season of coming and going

The season of Advent invites us to make a journey towards a humble crib in a stable and to ask God to connect us to the enduring, hope-filled experience of becoming part of his unfolding New Creation.

Each and every human makes a journey to and beyond a crib and yet each crib is situated in a particular context which shapes and is shaped by them.

To engage with how Jesus’ context shaped him we need to imagine what it is like to be born into relative poverty, under the shadow of a political power which threatens our very life even before we can crawl. We need to wonder what it would be like to be forced into exile and to live with the ensuing instability and fear that that produces in the family. But we also need to imagine the affirmation of the shepherds (who were so despised by the Roman imperial powers as to have no voice in court), and, of course, to receive the gifts of wise men beyond the limitations of our immediate context. For some of us, we would need also to imagine what a life with a loving mother and a father would be like.

Aspects of Jesus’ context might be very alien and hard to imagine for some, but for many, there is resonance in the gritty reality of our own lives across the world in the 21st century…

Beyond the crib, Jesus grew up and began to teach. Through his teaching and his lifestyle he demonstrated how he could speak relevantly into his context without being blind to the injustices which affected not only himself but also others he saw suffering around him. It appears clear that he carried a vision of  how life should be lived which not only informed his teaching but ultimately led him to refuse to be defined by the powers which dominated and shaped his context… we know the end of that story.

Advent is a season of moving towards Jesus in his crib…but more than that, it is a powerful reminder that to go with him beyond the crib is to engage ourselves in a life which is inextricably connected to the vision of the well-being and justice of all of creation which Mary alludes to in her song of praise, before Jesus’ birth:

…He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
 and exalted those of humble estate;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

In a very real sense we cannot celebrate Advent, without at the same time celebrating Easter…for to come to the crib is to also go to the cross and say, as have many Wilberforces, Kellers, Bonhoeffers, Fry’s, Luther Kings, Wollstonecrafts, Parks and countless other ordinary people across the world, “not on my watch” to the destructive powers which disfigure our contexts.

The particular joy of approaching the crib lays in the assurance that Emmanuel, God is with us and that his love is a love stronger than death. It is this love which promises to reshape our context as we go faithfully with Christ, beyond the innocence of the crib into a world in pain which is waiting, in eager anticipation, for the advent and revelation of the lives of those who walk in the footsteps of Christ. (Romans 8:19)

Oh Come Oh come Emmanuel!

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,
That moans to lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, dear Lord, with mercy and grace,
Make strong the weak and heal the human race,
The hungry feed, the needy clothe
That by example we will learn to love.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

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