Today is Advent Sunday. We stand at the threshold of a time of reflection, preparation, looking forward; and the world lies yearning for what happens at the end of this Advent period: the birth of a baby, to a poor, soon-to-be-refugee family, in a poverty-stricken backwater of what was considered the greatest empire on the earth. Just a baby. A woman, a man to help her, blood and filth and nothing but dirty straw to receive the newborn miracle. It strikes me that, among the more traditional cows and donkeys, there were almost certainly fleas present at the birth of the Christ-child.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, or at least of the liturgical season. 2014 starts in one month’s time; but in my tradition, advent is the start of a new year, and we spend it – four busy, demanding, exhausting weeks – in anticipation, in preparation, and – when we get time – in reflection. In counting to Christmas, we look toward the ceremony, the event which marks the stunning interruption of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Source of love, the Origin of all, into our dark and waiting world. The great and vulnerable Flow, in which all things have their being, was poured into the frail flesh and fragile life-spark of a human infant. Born into filth and the murkiness of the world around him and the fearful uncertainty of flight. Plus the fleas.
The world continues its yearning for that completion, that pinnacle of creation which erupted into that stable in a rush of blood and amniotic fluid so long ago. The tangible, touchable presence of the Wellspring of compassion, of good, of life itself. I yearn for it too. Psalm 63: my soul thirsts for You, the psalmist writes: my soul faints as though for water in the heat of the Palestinian desert. I yearn, I thirst, to open myself up to Compassion, to Knowledge, to Love – to all that I mean when I use the neat little monosyllable “God”. I yearn for it and yet I fear it: like a creature who, knowing the pain of burns, still feels itself drawn to the heat and comfort of fire.
So this Advent, the beginning of a new year, I’m going to try to do that. To seek the fire. To open myself up to the Force, the Source, the Origin, that I both long for and fear. To open my mind to prayer, even though there are times I feel that I don’t even really know what prayer is, that it’s little more than talking to myself. To pray, and to open my heart to the answer. To consciously re-centre myself on the Divine Reality which is the Source and Sustainer of my very being, but which I so often lost sight of in the same way I lose forget about the air which I breathe, the gravity which holds me firm to earth.
This is why I will do that: because one night a very long time ago God was born into the world. Because God remains today as radically, intrusively, vulnerably, lovingly present as on that unknown starry night which we’ll celebrate in a few weeks’ time. This Advent, I want to live and know the reality of that night and all that comes after.
Although hopefully without the fleas.