Some weeks ago I spent a beautiful day at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). The main purpose of my visit was to view the wonderful exhibition of works by the late indigenous artist, Mavis Ngallametta. Her work captures the changing seasons and the cycles of nature, particularly bushfires, back-burning and the ’coming of the wet’. As I approached QAG I saw my first jacaranda of the season, a symbol and sign of another ’coming’, my favourite season of the church year, Advent.
This beautiful season is almost upon us and one of the signs of its approach, for me, is always the jacarandas. As they continue to burst into bloom, they become for me a metaphor of God’s powerful love. Petals dropping before me, behind me, and under my feet, forming a carpet of God’s love. There is a lovely poem by Good Samaritan sister, Verna Holyhead simply called Jacaranda, that echoes that feeling:
Advent bursts violet and beautiful
Like the jacaranda tree
on the very brink
of an Australian summer.
It is a tree of contradictions,
like this southern season
of the Church’s year:
green-leafed in winter,
autumn gold in spring,
blossoming from bare trunk
to welcome in November.
A myriad trumpets cluster
for short fanfares
before it lays a purple carpet
to greet its king
who is not yet – but coming.
And this is what we are waiting for – his coming! Advent is a time of expectant waiting, but we aren’t always good at waiting. As the world becomes less complicated through the advances of technology, we still find ourselves waiting – for the package we ordered online to arrive in record speed; waiting in a queue at the supermarket checkout, queues designed to eliminate the evils of waiting; waiting for the phone to ring; waiting for medical results; and this year, our waiting is overshadowed by COVID-19 and the devastation it has wreaked on every aspect of our lives. The waiting never ends.
In fact, researchers suggest that the average person will spend 5 years of his or her life waiting in line, 2 years playing telephone tag, and 6 months sitting at red lights – over seven and a half years of waiting, at best doing nothing, or at worst experiencing great aggravation, especially at those red lights! Even in our fast-paced world, with all its conveniences, we are all waiting for something. And, during the Advent season, we discover a purpose to our waiting.
Advent, derived from a Latin word meaning “a coming toward (or near),” focuses the church’s attention on the three comings of Christ: in the past at his birth in Bethlehem, in the present, and on his Second Coming.
Each week when we gather as a community to celebrate the Eucharist we pray:
‘Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our saviour, Jesus Christ.’
So a sense of waiting is crucial to the Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and look forward to the final coming of God’s reign.
Unfortunately however, in our society, Advent has been subsumed by Christmas. Shopping centres begin to play carols weeks before. Gifts, wrapping paper, trees, toys and tinsel go on sale long before that. December is taken over by Christmas shopping, parties and planning for holidays. Then, when Christmas Day arrives, we heave a great sigh of relief and say, “Thank God it’s over’!’ But in reality, it is just beginning.
It is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas and as hard as it may be to accomplish, we need to take some quiet time during Advent to be alone with God. So I invite you to spend some time in quiet prayer and reflection on this beautiful season, as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive Christ anew at Christmas.
This is a season of profound interior contemplation, a time in which we can reflect on our lives, our hopes and dreams; on Mary’s great yes to God and her beautiful response, the Magnificat. Denise Levertov, in her poem, Annunciation focuses also on the courage Mary displayed
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage…..
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
Spirit, suspended, waiting.
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent, courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.
Advent is a time of rich and beautiful readings, particularly those of my favourite, Isaiah, and in these Advent readings he gives us hope, something we desperately need in these troubled times. All those years before Jesus, Isaiah urged his people continually, to take comfort:
‘Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term.’ [Isaiah 40:1-5]
In the beautiful Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) we hear the words
I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone, Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now, Be with me now
So in this time of fear and uncertainty, as we await the coming of Advent, let us be comforted. Let us follow Mary’s lead to be courageous, and believe that God will be with us now, at Christmas and in whatever lies ahead of us.