Pause for thought: Advent
Recently a colleague asked me how I was – my answer was to say ‘I don’t know’. Life gets so hectic in December with juggling work and all our other commitments that it’s easy just to go through the motions. Probably at that time, I was feeling slightly hungry, anxious about the amount of work I had to do that day, maybe worried about a meeting I was about to have. I had to stop and think though and realise that I was feeling all those different emotions and sensations.
Normally in a Christian festival we concentrate on one emotion or action... there is usually only one theme. For example during Christmas it is joy, in Lent it is repentance, during Harvest it is thankfulness. I think of Advent as different though because it is an ambivalent festival. Yes, there is anticipation, expectation and even hope. We enter into those feelings of those who were in Jesus’ time waiting for the new Messiah. Someone to save them. God was about to do something new.
But dread is also a word that I associate with advent, mainly because of its appearance in hymns. In one of my favourite hymns Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending describes Jesus as arriving ‘robed in dreadful majesty’. Dread for the advent season is the sense that Jesus is coming back to save the world, but that we will also be judged. There is a looming deadline if you like. Are we going to be ready for it? I always feel dread when I see a deadline looming – this dread can spur me into acton, but it can also overwhelm me.
So what is dread? The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes dread as to anticipate with great apprehension or fear, and has in the past had connotations of awe, which is again the implication of these older hymns. However, I think the newer meaning of dread also is relevant when we think of advent.
With all the festivities and activities, we may well feel differently on the inside to what we feel we have to project on the outside. We look around and imagine everyone else is having a good time, but what we’re going through makes us feel sad, lonely or upset. We may feel we have to pretend because deep down we are dreading Christmas
This last week on the way to chapel at St Padarn’s in the morning, there was the most glorious sky that made many of us stop in our tracks. For one moment I felt at peace and overwhelmed with God’s beautiful creation. I felt joy.
At the heart of the Christmas story is that Jesus also came to us in the middle of busyness, chaos and confusion. He came as one of us and knows what it’s like to be human with all of our hopes, fears, hassles and worries.
My hope is that Advent for us can also be about hope and anticipation as much as fear and dread. And that if times are tough, that this Christmas we will also be able to feel glimpses of joy in the middle of everything else.
Revd Dr Manon Ceridwen James