Advent is one of the great holy seasons of the Christian calendar. The word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin, adventus, which means coming, arrival. And of course the arrival we’re waiting for is the Christ-child. We join in the expectant waiting of a young, pregnant, Jewish girl awaiting the coming of her baby: Emmanuel – God is with us! The promises God has made to generations of Old Testament believers are fulfilled - at last, the Christ-child is born!
The four weeks before Christmas can be a busy, noisy time of shopping and activities that drown out our anticipation of the coming of the Christ-child. Perhaps this year might be a time when we can be more intentional and attentive to God as we wait with expectancy.
Many branches of the Christian Church celebrate Advent, and this year, Advent begins on Sunday, 28th of November and runs until Christmas Eve. Some churches light candles on an Advent wreath, keep an Advent calendar, or perhaps use a daily devotional to help them focus in and be reminded of the meaning of this unique season.
I recently published a book of meditations for Advent, drawing upon the writings of Evelyn Underhill, a much celebrated, British writer in Christian spirituality (1875-1941). The book is called Music of Eternity: Meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill and is the ‘Archbishop of York’s Advent Book for 2021’. The book’s title comes from a quote in one of Evelyn’s retreat talks where she writes, ‘Receiving means to keep ourselves carefully tuned in, sensitive to the music of Eternity. We can never adore enough’. The moment I was asked to write this book, my head and heart were flooded with the phrase, ‘O come let us adore Him’, from the carol, ‘O come all ye faithful’. My hope is that this Advent, Evelyn’s meditations can lead us into adoring worship of Christ.
I’ve organised the daily meditations into a dance in four stages. We begin in Part 1 with God – the mighty symphony of the Triune God - and His perpetual coming to us. We ponder God as the Eternal Love brooding over creation (and over our lives), and we close Part 1 reflecting upon two phrases from the Lord’s Prayer that dwell upon adoring God in worship: ‘Father, Hallowed be Your Name’ and ‘Your Kingdom come’.
In Part 2, we focus on Advent as we await God’s coming in the person of Christ. This part is made up of Advent waiting, expectancy, hope, silence, prayer and contemplation. Some of the excerpts include quotes from Evelyn’s letters about different forms of attentive prayer. As we anticipate Christ’s arrival, we engage in some of these quieter, more reflective types of prayer.
In Part 3, we focus on Emmanuel – Christ has come! I deliberately made this section the longest, for Christ is the one we’re waiting for at Advent, and we need space to gaze upon and listen to Him. These meditations trace Jesus’ life – birth, temptation, rescuing, transfiguration, death, resurrection, Emmaus encounter and ascension.
In Part 4, we focus upon our response as the Church to the coming of Christ. I’ve called this section ‘holy living’, as we embrace God’s coming in Christ, and His perpetual coming to us in every moment. Some essential aspects of our response to God are outlined: adoration, Eucharist (communion), sacrifice, humility, love, forgiveness and peace. I close with an Epilogue, which takes us back to Eternity, where we began in Part 1. As we stand here, between the now and not yet, our ears need to be awake to ‘listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches’; we who are ‘thirsty’ say ‘Come’ (Revelation 2.7, 11, 17, 29; 22.17, MSG). Come Lord Jesus! During this long advent between Jesus’ ascension and second coming, we wait for when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! (Phil 2:10-11, NIV)
Evelyn invites us this Advent to gaze upon Christ in adoration and listen to Him. She argues,
So many Christians are like deaf people at a concert. They study the programme carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the music, but only really hear a phrase now and again. So they have no notion of the mighty symphony that fills the universe, to which our lives are destined to make their tiny contribution…
Perhaps this Advent is a time for us to attend more fully to God with all of who we are, in heart-filled adoration; to sing as the global Church - ‘O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!’