Advent Reflections 2018
The Four Weeks of Advent 2018
Advent is a word that suggests a journey and indeed an adventure. If life isn’t an adventure we would die of boredom or sadness.
As in the great quests in myths across all cultures, the hero in Advent is looking for something – often their true home or 'parental origin'. There are trials to be endured and knowledge to be won by testing ourselves at the extreme limits of the known. Failures are part of the process and important teachers, which train us to think of success in less egocentric, cosmic ways.
The strange thing about the Christian adventure quest is the non-duality of the story. Is it us seeking God or God seeking us? Is it the Son ‘coming to his own’ and not being made welcome or us setting out across the interstellar spaces towards the primordial moment of creation? The answer to this paradox – although paradoxes don’t have answers – is spoken when God pours infinite fullness into the limited receptacle of a human container. This is the Incarnation, Jesus.
As a Christian adventure, the season of Christmas opens the annual cycle of the spiritual New Year. It squares the circle of cyclical and linear time – what goes round and what passes through the mortality of the human dimension is like an arrow shooting into death. Daily meditation does the same, allowing us to both live in spiritual time and do the laundry.
Liturgical time contains: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and the long Ordinary Time and lots of Feasts and the occasional Solemnity. One of the benefits for the meditator of following a liturgical season is that it helps embed and nourish our personal daily practice in the rich soil of a living transmission of wisdom – a tradition.
This year’s Advent reflections will revolve around the Sunday gospel of each week. They may also provide some resources for the adventure of each weekday that connects the following four Sundays.
Using Advent wisely could help us to celebrate - not the fake consumerist festival it has become - but the real Feast of Christmas. This Feast comes around annually but each time it marks a new stage of the arrow’s flight of our lives. I hope our weekly reflections will help you prepare and celebrate for this festival that sheds such light on the love that flows between God and ourselves – the longest love affair in the cosmos.
John 1:1 - 5, 9 - 14
The Word was made flesh, and lived among us
In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
The Word was the true light that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh
or will of man but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh, he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Christmas is one of those ‘Solemnities’ in the liturgical drama of the year that used to weave in and out of linear, working day time. To us it seems odd to be solemn and joyful at the same time. If something joyful occurs to us at a solemn event where we are meant to look serious, we tend to giggle. But today is a solemn feast and at feasts you are meant to laugh not look pie-faced or hide your joy. One ancient author dared to say ‘no one has the right to be sad today.’
When the punch line of a good joke is delivered well, or a long held secret is disclosed or an obvious solution is finally found to an intractable problem some new joy leaps in us and we laugh. Eureka moments have to be verified and tested and they sometimes open more problems than they solve but they are always to be celebrated. The great solemnities of our lives create a supernova burst of joy that disperses but does not disappear.
Like the Big Bang thirteen billion years ago, the moment in which the infinitely concentrated universe exploded and space and time came into existence. Further back than this we cannot see but the radiation energy of that instant of creation is spread evenly throughout the cosmos from the furthest horizon of the expanding universe to the cellular composition of our bodily organs.
The Prologue to St John’s gospel articulates the wonder of the Incarnation, the self-emptying of God into a human being who would grow to full humanity: ‘The Word was made flesh’. The easiest way mentally to deal with this solemn joy is to explain it by the supernatural. Meditators are inclined, however, to be suspicious of the supernatural. We prefer to look deeper into nature and find new laws and truths that reveal the meaning of mysteries.
St John is thought to have been the ‘beloved disciple’. Whatever this means, it suggests a special level of friendship and understanding. In John we see Jesus weeping for the loss of a friend, tired after a journey, angry with people defiling a sacred space. In John too we see the deepest insight into the nature of Jesus as a complete manifestation of the divine. There are no perfect translations between languages. But Christian faith sees Jesus as the complete translation of God into the human: the most challenging and joyful of religious insights.
A merely intellectual approach to the Incarnation quickly becomes anaemic and incorporeal. St John says, however, ‘we knew him.., spoke with him ate with him, touched him, laughed and cried with him’. Mary was held in such esteem because as a mother she above all knew him in the flesh. If we stop there in the written record we risk becoming stuck at the devotional level, imagining the historical Jesus. This should take us further, beyond imaginative knowledge into contemplative, unitive knowledge where we are one with him. Then it is not only that we imagine him being human because we know him in our own humanity. We know his consciousness dispersed throughout our wholeness. Like the energy of the first moment, creation which happened so that the long Advent of the universe, the long preparation might become Christmas and celebrate the marriage of God and humanity.
What is the sacred language of Christianity? The sacred language of Judaism is Hebrew, of Hinduism Sanskrit, of the Muslims Arabic. But what is the sacred language of Christianity? The body.