4th Sunday Advent

Anybody familiar with computer use will have come across Adobe.

The company develops printing, publishing, and graphics software.

One of their software applications is known as Photoshop. This software allows the user to edit and manipulate digital images.
So, for example, you can make a person taller, or slimmer, or remove wrinkles from a face.

I sometimes wonder whether Adobe Photoshop was available in the Middle Ages for artists to make use of. Particularly in artwork concerning the feast we are praying to celebrate.

The artists’ portrayal of the Nativity is almost invariably clean and tidy – I have yet to discover a painting of Mary giving birth to her child! The artists’ have Mary and Joseph dressed tidily, kneeling discreetly in adoration, and of course, the newly born child wrapped neatly in snow-white clothing. The child is either asleep or looking lovingly into the eyes of the mother.

Where is the sweat, the push, the grunt, the blood?

Was the birth of the Incarnate One into our world, of our world, or was it too, somewhat miraculous?

The following poem titled “Sometimes I Wonder” invited me into the truth of the Word-became Flesh-and lives among us!

Sometimes I wonder
sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.

because the real scandal of the Birth

of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.
– Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

Fourth Sunday of Advent

There are many ways we can wait.

We wait at the train or bus station with anxiety and nervousness, hoping the public transport will be on time this morning when I need it most.

We wait at red lights at the traffic intersection with irritation when there are no other vehicles coming or going in any direction.

We wait in the departure lounge at the airport, assuming the doors to the walkway will be opened soon – and then those seated in Rows 16 to 23 are called to board, and you take a quick look at your boarding pass knowing you are in Row 8!

We wait with expectation and a little concern for the exam results from our final exams, with the outcome of these exams propelling me forward or holding me back.

There are many other kinds of waiting, for example, the farmer who has planted seeds in his paddock – the first sign of a green carpet appearing, bringing relief.

Then there is a special kind of waiting – I experienced this kind 22 years ago, and is still my favourite image for Advent.

My younger sister was pregnant with her child.

We lived in the same city, and I would visit her and her husband with some regularity.

On a particular occasion, the home was locked.

No problem, I knew where the key was “hidden”, and so let myself into the house.

In a short time, my sister returned. She explained that she had been for a pregnancy checkup and then asked an amazing question, “do you want to see the baby?”

She had a VHS (a video for those two young to know) of the growing fetus in her womb.

So, there we sat, my sister quite pregnant and me as we watched this fetus swimming around inside the womb!

It is one of my most special memories and is captured for me in the phrase, “ the one who is to come is already here! “

Maybe that is at the heart of Advent, “ the one who is to come is already here!”

Third Sunday of Advent

Springtime colours in Hagley Park, Christchurch.

Planted on the median of Christchurch’s Memorial Avenue are a number of blossom trees.

During the winter months, the trees are naked and somewhat brutal in their appearance; however, with the ‘advent’ of springtime, they are transformed with new buds which blossom with spectacular colour.

Memorial Avenue leads to a further outburst of colour as it arrives at Hagley Park; a large urban expanse of trees and recreational facilities in the middle of the picturesque city.

The transformation is extraordinary and is entirely colour based!

Our Advent first readings are taken from the prophet Isaiah, and they are songs of expectation and then of celebration.

This Sunday, Isaiah is full of this expectation and festivity (Is. 35: 1 – 6, 10)

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus, it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.”

“They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”

”Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy”.

“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

“The redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing.“

“Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness.”

Our redemption begins not in the snow but rather from the blossom and colour of Spring!

First Sunday of Advent

My memory of school-day chemistry is not extensive.

However, I remember one principle in chemistry.

Sometimes, two elements lie side by side inside a test tube and do not unite until there is sufficient heat to bring them to a high enough temperature where unity can take place.

That is a wonderful metaphor for Advent.

Advent is about getting in touch with our longing.

It is about letting our yearnings raise our “psychic temperature” (to use a phrase from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin sj) so that we are pushed to eventually let down our guard, hope in new ways, and risk intimacy.

St John of the Cross (in his book “Living Flame of Love”) has a similar image.

Intimacy with God and with each other will only take place, when we reach a certain kindling temperature.

For too much of our lives, he suggests, we lie around as damp, green logs inside the fire of love, waiting to come to flame but never bursting into flame because of our dampness.

However, before we can burst into flame, we must first dry out and come to a kindling temperature.

We do that as does a damp log inside a fire, by first sizzling for a long time in the flames so as to dry out.

How do we sizzle psychologically and spiritually?

For St John of the Cross, we do that through the pain of loneliness, restlessness, disquiet, anxiety, frustration, and unrequited desire.

In the torment of incompleteness, our psychic temperature rises so that eventually, we come to kindling temperature and there, we finally open ourselves to union in new ways.

Advent is about longing, about getting in touch with longing, about heightening it, about letting it raise our psychic temperature.

It’s about sizzling as damp, green logs inside the fires of intimacy, about intuiting the kingdom of God by seeing through desire, what the world might look like if a Messiah were to come and, with us, establish justice, peace, and unity on this earth.

The Latin root of the familiar word ‘Advent’ is veni.

Veni speaks of ‘coming’, the coming of Christ.

However, it might also cause us to reflect on our own ‘coming’, our coming ‘awake’.

Being overly taken up with a newborn babe lying amongst the straw and being gazed upon by Mary, Joseph, shepherds and, yes, even the errant cattle beast, might well distract us from our own work – namely, our awakening to the God within me.

Advent is a time for not only gazing outward, rather also inward until we sizzle and burst into flame.