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Advent Reflections

Each week during Advent a new reflection will be posted. Why not take some time to pause and spend some time with God?

Week 4 – Advent Reflection by Priscilla Slusar

O Emmanuel by Malcolm Guite

O Come, O come, and be our God-with-us,
O long-sought with-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,
Come Root, and Key, and King, and Holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Untold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness,
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands

This poem is taken from Malcolm Guite’s book “Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year.”  It is the last of his seven sonnets based on the Advent Antiphons (you may like to follow up this reflection by reading the other sonnets in this series).  An antiphon is a short phrase, usually taken from Scripture that is sung as a refrain before and after a psalm or canticle. The O antiphons are a series of seven antiphons beginning with “O” that are used in the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve, with a different antiphon proclaimed each day.  Each one starts with a title for Jesus used in the Old Testament.  In Latin these titles are: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium, and Emmanuel—in reverse order they form an acrostic ERO CRAS which means “I am coming soon.”  The English translations are: Wisdom, Leader of Israel, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the nations, God with us.

The words of the final antiphon of the series are:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Our pilgrimage through these Advent reflections has prompted us to reflect on change in our lives; the change that the birth of Christ brings.  This sonnet emphasizes the need for change in the world with these phrases: “a world without,” “wounded world,” “our hopelessness,” “a dying world.” However, this is countered with phrases about hope and light and new birth: “spring of light,” “tiny hope,” “bear us to our birth,” “new-made hands.”  The presence of God-with-us brings hope for the future and light for our darkness.  We are saved by the wonderful gift of the love and grace of God.  This is something so far beyond our understanding that it is a mystery.

Advent is the start of the new year for the Church, so these words of new life are appropriate for this season.  We have a chance to make our “spiritual” new year resolutions.  How can we strengthen our faith?  What can we do to develop a closer relationship with God?  How can our lives reflect God’s love to those around us, so that we bring hope to a wounded world?

Consider: What hope does the birth of Christ bring to your life?  How can you pass on that hope to others?

Lord, you call us on our pilgrimage to follow your road to freedom. 
May we not rest on that road, but follow you all the way.    
Be our companion and our guide as we travel and light our way with your love and grace.   Amen

A PDF of this reflection is available to download here:

Week 3 – Advent Reflection by Rev’d Priscilla Slusar

New Prince, new pompe
by Robert Southwell (1561-95)

Behold a silly tender babe
In freezing Winter night
In homely manger trembling lies
Alas a piteous sight.
The Inns are full, no man will yield
This little Pilgrim Bed;
But forc’d he is with silly beasts
In Crib to shroud his head.
Despise him not for lying there
First what he is enquire;
An orient pearl is often found
In depth of dirty mire.
Weigh not his Crib, his wooden dish,
Nor beasts that by him feed;
Weigh not his mother’s poor attire.
Nor Joseph’s simple weed.
The stable is a Prince’s Court,
The Crib his chair of state,
The beasts are parcel of his pomp,
The wooden dish his plate.
The persons in that poor attire
His royal liveries wear;
The prince himself is come from heaven:
This pompe is prized there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight,
Do homage to thy King,
And highly prize this humble pomp
Which he from heaven doth bring.

Picture: Adoration of the Shepherds
by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)

This poem from the sixteenth century presents us with the nativity scene.  It is a vivid image and we are invited to look closely – “Behold.”  We are so used to seeing images like this; on Christmas cards, in stained-glass windows, in school nativity plays.  But this poem reminds us that it is good to stop and look.

It is important to be aware that some of the words used in this poem have changed their meaning or emphasis since the sixteenth century.  Both the baby and the beasts are described as “silly” which may seem to be a disparaging term according to today’s vocabulary.  However, in this poem it means simple or innocent.  The baby is also referred to as a Pilgrim which we usually associate with a spiritual search but Southwell would have just meant a traveller.  Is Southwell implying that this baby has travelled from God to earth?  He also uses the word “shroud” in referring to the crib – perhaps this is a deliberate reference to what is to come when Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb.

Our Christmas cards usually show a sanitised view of the stable and the conditions of Jesus’ birth.  But in this poem Southwell emphasises the harsh reality.  He tells us that we need to look beyond the surface poverty of the scene to find “the pearl of great price.”  We are challenged to understand who this baby is, and to think about what we value in our lives.  It is not a stable but a princely court, the crib is a throne, the poor clothing of the people in the scene is really a uniform indicating that these people serve a king.  This location and these people were chosen by God for this amazing moment in history.  God chooses to be among the poor and harsh conditions of humanity.

In the final section of the poem, we are encouraged to approach with joy and give homage to the King.  Paying homage means putting everything we have in the service of another, into the hands of one who is greater than we are.  It is a big commitment, with great demands, but bringing great joy.  In our pilgrimage through Advent we are reflecting on the idea of change in our lives.  What change would such homage require of us?

Consider: Try to look with fresh eyes at images of the Nativity.  What details do you notice?  What does the scene say about God’s love for you?

Lord, our pilgrimage draws us nearer to your birth at Bethlehem. 
Help us to see your glory in the baby in the cradle and reflected in our lives.    
Be our companion and our guide as we travel
and light our way with your love and grace on our pilgrimage.  Amen

A PDF of this reflection is available to download here:

Week 2 – Advent Reflection by Rev’d Priscilla Slusar

Mary by Ann Lewin

Full of grace ….
I wonder what that felt like.
Was your acceptance swift
And total, meek as your
Stained glass image?
Or was it wrung from you
In sweat and agony of mind?
The God I know does not get submissions very easily,
But then I’m not a Saint.
Perhaps you weren’t either,
Just an ordinary person,
Struggling to understand.
Has the adulation over the years
Been a bit of an embarrassment,
Imprisoning you in dogma,
Preventing us from seeing you
As you are?

The family, were they convinced?
And the neighbours?  I’ve often
Wondered about that visit to
Elizabeth – was that to get you
Away from all the gossip, until
The wedding could be arranged
Discreetly?  And what about Joseph?
He must have thought it
A fine kind of angel who’d visited you.

We’ll never know – but whatever
Happened, I’m pretty sure
The sword that pierced your soul
Didn’t wait for the crucifixion.
And I’ve got a feeling that
You watch with some sympathy
As we struggle with our
Mysteries and pain.

Picture: “The Walking Madonna”
by Elisabeth Frink

I was fortunate to work with an excellent parish youth leader when I was a curate.  He used to say that he was irritated by the images of Mary in statues and stained-glass windows.  He said that she was usually depicted with downcast eyes and her head tilted to one side as if she had a crick in her neck!  He felt that this pose was intended to depict her humility, but he argued that it did not reflect her true character.  His point was that Mary must have been a woman of great courage and determination to accept the role that God assigned her.  Her “Yes” to God required great strength of character.

In this poem Ann Lewin presents a similar image of Mary.  She helps us to understand the depth of criticism that Mary must have felt.  Mary could have become an outcast from society if her family and Joseph had not supported her.  Parenthood (or any loving relationship) can be painful.  When we commit ourselves to loving another person, we open ourselves to opportunities for hurt and anger as well as joy.  Mary knew that pain of love.  I like Ann Lewin’s phrase “I’m pretty sure the sword that pierced your heart didn’t wait for the crucifixion.”  It’s a dramatic image based on a Biblical text, but it also brings home to us the commitment that Mary made when she accepted God’s will.  It was a commitment that affected her whole life.

Ann Lewin uses Mary’s situation to reflect on our lives.  What is God calling us to do and are we willing to submit to God’s will?  There may be a cost to such commitment.  It may create change in our lives.  It may lead to pain and confusion.  This season of Advent gives us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and consider whether such change is needed.  The reassuring thought is that God is with us through these times of reflection and change, and Mary understands what we face because she has faced the most dramatic change of all.

Consider: Does this poem change your image of Mary?  What can we learn from Mary to help us follow God’s will in our lives?

Lord, we continue on our journey and, like Mary, we open ourselves to your will.  Support us as we struggle with our mysteries and pain.    
Be our companion and our guide as we travel and light our way with your love and grace on our pilgrimage.  Amen

A PDF of this reflection is available to download here:

Week 1 – Advent Reflection by Rev’d Priscilla Slusar

Pilgrimage through Advent by David Sinclair

Advent might not be for me!
If I believe
that everything is fine,
just the way it is,
Advent is not for me.

If I believe
that the church is fine,
just the way it is,
Advent is not for me.

If I believe
that I am fine,
just the way I am
Advent is not for me.

Advent is not about
preparations for Christmas;
it is about
preparation for the arrival
of the Christ,
the arrival of
his kingdom,
his reign,
his way.

And so Advent
puts everything
-and everyone –
under scrutiny.

Advent asks
the most searching of questions
of me
and demands
that I ask them
of myself.

Advent talks
about renewal,
about change (radical change),
about turning things (and me)
inside out and upside down.

So if,
on reflection,
I decide
that I would really like
to keep things
just the way they are,
Advent is not really
for me.

So, after reading that, is Advent for you? 
This poem sets out a challenge.  It asks us to consider whether we are open to change and renewal.  The format is unusual but the pattern of verses and repetition helps to emphasise each point, making us think about the season of Advent and evaluate our response.  Is this what Advent means for you?

Traditionally, the Church has used four themes for the season of Advent; one theme for each week of Advent.  These four themes are The Patriarchs, The Prophets, John the Baptist, and Mary.  These themes lead us through the message of the Bible from Genesis to the Gospels.  They emphasise the idea of preparation – preparation for the birth of Christ, our Saviour.  But David Sinclair’s poem takes a different theme.  He indicates that Advent is about change; the need for personal change, change in the Church, and change in the world.

The birth of Christ brought change to the world, and the impact of that change has been felt for over 2,000 years.  These reflections over the next four weeks will provide an opportunity to think about the impact of the birth of Christ – the impact on the lives of some of the people present at the first Christmas, the impact on us nowadays, and the impact on the wider world.

The season of Advent gives us a chance to open our hearts and minds to a greater awareness of the presence of God.  It is often referred to as a season of waiting and watching.  However, we all know that this is a busy time in our lives.  I know that each year I promise myself that I will begin Christmas preparations early so that I will have time to have a more relaxed season of Advent, with more time for reading and meditation.  Of course, it doesn’t happen!  There is always something that gets in the way and the days seem to pass in a whirl of activity.  This clearly indicates that there is a need for change in my life – so, Advent is for me.

A time of watching and waiting gives us space in our busy lives to be open to the message of God’s love for the world.  As we read the Bible we hear of the wonder of creation, the promise of the Messiah, the joy of our Saviour’s birth, and the sacrificial love of his death on the cross.  But we also read about the way in which humans have turned away from God, rejected his love, and fallen short of his trust in us.  The season of Advent gives us a chance to reflect on our own shortcomings and to repent of the way in which we have marred God’s image in us.  It gives us a chance to change and to look forward to the celebration of Christmas with hope and joy.

Advent can, therefore, be regarded as a pilgrimage.  We travel through the season from reflection to repentance and to hope, confident of God’s love and grace.

Consider: How can you use the season of Advent as a springboard for change in your life – in spiritual terms and in practical ways?

Lord, we begin our journey in stillness and quietness, open to you and open to your way. 
Be our companion and our guide as we travel and light our way with your love and grace on our pilgrimage.  Amen

A PDF of this reflection is available to download here: