It’s been a very long Advent this year, but we’ve made it – well almost! Just another week to go.
Back when we were experiencing our second Covid wave, the possibility that we might have to spend Christmas in lockdown gave us the kind of push to do whatever it took to face up to this deadly virus. We masked up, washed our hands, clogged Australia Post with online shopping and discovered ways to live together, or maybe alone, within house walls – and waited.
We waited for Premier Dan’s midday announcement of numbers up, or on a good day, down. We looked forward to a one hour walk, smiling at masked passers-by and patting friendly dogs. Some of us, children included, waited for school to resume as we resolved to never underestimate teachers again. We booked Zoom calls with friends and family in the world outside our five kilometre radius and spoke hopefully of getting together for Christmas.
These words, written by Kathy Gallway in A Pattern of our Days, speak of a Mary waiting to birth her child. They also remind me of our Advent-like lockdown:
To be vulnerable
To be of good courage
To go on
Day after day after day;
To be heavy with hope
To carry the weight of the future
To anticipate with joy
To withdraw with fear
Until the pain overcomes
The waters break
And the light of the world
For years now, as Advent has come round on the Church calendar, I’ve tried to write words that capture the deep spirituality and theology of Christmas. Deep down I tut-tutted about end-of-year activities and Advent calendars presided over by Father Christmas, endless snowy jingles and frantic shopping blocking out Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.
This year, a year when waiting hit hard as it became the new norm, I think I might have learnt something valuable about Christmas. We in Australia are gradually moving into what we trust and hope will be a Covid-free world. Meanwhile much of the world still waits where Christmas is on the calendar but Advent isn’t over.
And what have I learnt? Well I think I’ve flicked some of the churchy spirituality that has been blocking my vision for years. Now I see that however Christmas is celebrated, the fact that it is at all, that its universal emphasis on family, friendship, getting together, a desire for peace and joy, is given to us by our God who could find no better way of expressing how much we are all loved than wrapping it up in a family.
The Bethlehem baby will still get lost in a welter of tinsel and ham and presents, but amidst all that is love; family and friend love, love expressed in care and empathy for a world that is deep in suffering, and Love that is God expressing God’s self and gifting it to us. And as Kathy continues,
Delivered with pain,
Bringing new hope to birth
In your waiting world.
May the God of love and paradox, who chose a stable over a palace for the Christmas event, bless you with a deepened awareness of the love that shines through the ordinary places, as well as the broken places of life.