First Sunday of Advent

PHOTO: LAURENCE FREEMAN
 
Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened.
 
Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (21:34)
 
Anticipating the official, secular new year by a little, Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year. This is of little interest to most people, of course; but for those of us who notice it there is a chance to reconsider our relationship to time.

Secular time has traditionally been interwoven with sacred time. Secular meant the time spent working to earn and survive and sacred referred to the intersection with the eternal or spiritual world or its irruption into the world of work and society. Only with the industrial age did the indignity of paid holidays begin as holy days were progressively reduced until, now, they have virtually disappeared. What is left – Christmas Day or Good Friday or the Assumption in Latin countries - are remnants of feasts but often without festivities or meaning.

This loss of sacred time has contracted our world and diminished the richness of its many dimensions. It creates a flatland where time is money and vacations are no longer vacant times, brimming with rest and potentiality like the Shabbat, but packed with activity and entertainment.  Today, as Advent begins, we can challenge that.

This is why we benefit just by being aware of the religious festivals and liturgical seasons both in our own and in other people’s religions. The more these are recognized and respected the less barren is our secularized world and the dominance of materialistic values is reduced.

Today the clock starts ticking for Christmas. As soon as the ticking starts we feel a growing anticipation – reminding us of the impatience of children for the feast of presents, family presence and food. But as the readings today remind us, the countdown also reminds us of the mortality of time Beginnings inevitably look towards ends. Birth confronts us with the questions of meaning. “Keeping death always before you eyes” may seem odd advice to prepare for a birthday. But it is the whole picture that sacred time invites us to recover.

Before and after your meditation in the next four weeks why not read a short piece of scripture and a short passage from John Main’s last newsletter of December 1982 contained in Monastery Without Walls (read here). It was also posted on our website here.

And, as the commercial signs of Christmas mount their campaign, deepen your reflection on the marriage of the sacred and the secular. This birth is a union, not a separation. This is what, once more, we are preparing for and trying better to understand.

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