A Time of Hope and Expectation.

According to the Christian calendar we are in the season of Advent.
          Advent comes from the Latin “ad-venire”, to come to, arriving, which is a translation of the Greek word “Parousia”
          Today is the second Sunday (6thDecember2020) of four, leading to celebration on Christmas day. Each Sunday has its own name and symbolism.
          The first Sunday is called Prophecy in remembrance of the prophets, particularly Isaiah who foretold the birth of Christ. ch 7; v14 “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name Him Emmanuel”
          The second Sunday is Bethlehem. A reminder of Mary and Josephs journey to that town. In bygone times Irish people expressed their devotion to Mary in Advent by aiming to say four thousand Hail Marys by Christmas day. It is also associated with John the Baptist who baptised Jesus in the desert. He led the way for Jesus announcing His arrival.
          The third is called Shepherd’s Sunday, also known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete meaning “Rejoice ye”. It reminds us of the joy of the world at the birth of Jesus just as the shepherds were overjoyed on that first Christmas night.
          The fourth is Angel’s Sunday and honours peace, as sung by the angels: Peace on earth. Goodwill towards men.

On their website the Jesuits tell us:
“It was in Spain and Gaul that the earliest form of Advent appears. The Council of Saragossa in Spain in 380 refers to a three-week period of preparation extending from the 17th December to the Epiphany. It urged the faithful to attend church daily. The Epiphany, like Easter, was a time for the conferring of Baptism. The weeks before were a time of preparation”. Over time its connection to Baptism was lost. It became four weeks of preparation for Christmas – a time of waiting and expectancy for the coming of the Lord. A time of penance encouraged by the preaching of Irish monks. “It is now considered a season of joyful and spiritual expectation and is no longer a penitential season.” according to the Jesuits.
          They also tell us that “The origins of the Advent wreath go back to pre-Christian times. To the sun-worshipping tribes of northern Europe. It was one of the many symbols of light which were used at the end of November and early December, that time of year when our pagan ancestors celebrated the month of Yule by lighting torches and fires. To appease the sun god and to ensure his return in the darkest time of the year, they took what may have been a cartwheel, wound with green and decorated with lights, and offered it to the deity. The wreath itself, which is made of evergreens, signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning nor end symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life we find in Christ. It was in the 16th century in eastern Germany that the custom was Christianised and the wreath made its appearance in people’s homes as a religious symbol of Advent”.
          Five candles adorn the wreath, three purple, one pink and one white. On the first Sunday a purple candle signifying Hope is lighted. Another purple on the second Sunday is Love. The third Sunday is the pink candle reminding us to be joyful. We light the third purple candle on the fourth Sunday to symbolize Peace and the white one is lighted on Christmas day.
          “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us. To awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope”. (Pope Benedict XVI.)
          One of my memories of Advent is, as a child I was unable to send or receive letters from my beloved auntie Kitty. From the time I learned to write I enclosed a letter to her whenever my father, her brother, sent her one. She always replied and I got my very own letter. She was a nun in Bristol in England. The congregation observed the penitential rules of Advent. So, she could neither send nor receive post. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my letters nor hers from that time. We stayed close exchanging many letters and visits over the years until her death at the age of 95.
          In lockdown, it feels as if we are in a protracted season of the old Advent with different austere conditions. In fact, a good number of us are a testament to the good life, bemoaning the shrinkage of our clothes. But our deprivations are very real, particularly not being able to meet friends or not having close contact with our loved ones. It takes advertising to “Get” the sentiment as in the SuperValu ad. The young boy Conor is living in hope, anticipation and preparation and constantly asking “is he really coming”? What joy, we all feel when he welcomes and hugs his grandad.
          And yet there are positive aspects to our confinement. We have more time for reflection and sharing news and memories on the phone or via zoom. Particularly about people, events and places that made an impression and difference in our lives. Taking up crafts, gardening, reading, baking and finding time to cross off items on long lists. We are spending more time in nature. Nature and wildlife are renewing itself and we are grateful for that. One thing that is particularly noticeable is the way in which most of us are aware of others taking care to respect their space. People are more thoughtful and pleasant, helping to ease our transition through this pandemic. We are all in this together. We must be aware of the other. A great number of people are living very differently from what was the norm particularly those working from home.
          Penitential Advent ends in celebration on Christmas day. We have no idea when Covid 19 will end. But the human race is resilient. Hopefully the manic life in which so many are caught up will ease. We live in hope and expectation that we will experience a better way of life, where peace and joy abound and where we all live in harmony with nature and the Devine.
          “Life is a constant Advent season: we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfil. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfilment are all part of our advent experience. The world is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we know it can and should be. But the coming of Christ and his presence among us – as one of us – give us reason to live in hope: that light will shatter the darkness, that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices, that we are never alone or abandoned. May this Advent season be a time for bringing hope, transformation and fulfilment into the Advent of our lives”.

Monica Cremins
Dublin Unitarian Church                                         December 2020