It was with a wry smile the other day that I noticed two large Advent Calendars on the Welsh Dresser
in the kitchen – our two children Chloe and Tyler are well beyond the infant years now, but they still
exhibit the lively expectation of having an Advent Calendar. Day by day they will open the windows
and enjoy the chocolate delights inside! It is just one of many customs and traditions that we
associate with this time of the year, which help us to mark the journey through the season of Advent,
to the joyful celebration of Christmas.
Advent Calendar is also the title of one of my favourite poems by Rowan Williams, the former
Archbishop of Canterbury, an accomplished poet as well as an erudite theologian. The poem is
deliberately couched in the language and imagery of winter – a powerful reminder that in the
northern hemisphere this season of preparation coincides with the reality of shorter days and the
prevalence of darkness. It is often the case that this is accompanied by prevailing winter weather –
frost, snow, storm, and rain. Through the passage of four memorable stanzas, Rowan takes us from
‘last leaf’s fall’ of late Autumn to the ‘star-snowed fields of sky’ in December, whilst at the same time
reminding us of the promise of Advent ‘He will come’ If you are not familiar with this work, then I
commend it to you – search it out and let it be part of your reading and reflection this Advent.
The beauty of this poem and the reason why I return to it so often at this time of the year, is that it
reminds me of a lasting truth at the heart of the Gospel – the incarnation is about the presence of
God in Christ in the here and now, not some distant historic event with little bearing upon my life. It
is the startling truth that God’s presence, in all its love, mercy, peace and grace, is revealed in the
present reality of our human experience now! It is for this reason that the recurring verse ‘He will
come’ is so important because it acts as a faithful repetition of the Advent promise that Christ will
come – in darkness, cold, fear, struggle and violence, Christ will come!
The question of the incarnation and the mystery of the presence of God in Christ became the cantus
firmus for the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German theologian and martyr) as he wrestled with
the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany and the seeming impotence of a Church that had accommodated
itself to the status quo and lost the courage to act and speak prophetically. In contrast, a costly
discipleship, shaped by the spirit and person of Christ, might align you with a vastly different group of
people and might lead to a quite unique way of being in the world! For Bonhoeffer, there is a
constant need for the disciple and the church, to ask the question ‘Who is Jesus Christ today?
I hope and pray that each one of us will wrestle with that same question as we journey through
Advent and celebrate Christmas. At a time when there is conflict in Europe, a cost-of-living crisis, fuel
poverty and an ever-greater disparity between the rich and the poor, what will it mean for us to pray
‘Come Lord Jesus.’? In a society that is less Christian (according to the latest census) and where the
historic Christian denominations are haemorrhaging resources and people, what will it mean to sing
‘Come Lord Jesus’? When all is said and done, we might well be surprised, when we discover the
presence of Christ in our midst and his calling upon our lives!
With very best wishes,