The Advent season starts for each of us, alone. No matter that by Christmas Day, most of us will find our way to be connected with some others – family, friends or communities. But it starts with people alone.
Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, is carrying a child in her old age while her husband is struck silent. Elizabeth is very much alone.
Mary, the teenage girl engaged to Joseph is visited by the angel Gabriel while she sleeps. She is alone, left to wonder if she is going mad and what will become of her.
Joseph is also alone when visited by the angel, who assures him he should still take Mary as his wife. Joseph had been secretly planning to break off their betrothal; in secret and alone.
Eventually Mary gives birth alone in a stable, no mention of midwives, mothers or sisters to accompany her on this journey. Mary, the mother of God spends much of the Christmas story alone, if not lonely.
Although the traditional Christmas story ends with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a motley crew of shepherds, wise men and innkeepers gathered together in a stable; for each person the journey starts alone. Nativity scenes paint a picture of otherworldly peace and calm, but the story itself is actually full of human anguish, anxiety, fear, rejection, anger and loneliness.
It is the same for us. Whatever our thoughts or beliefs around the Christmas season or story are; we begin the season alone.
This aloneness is an extraordinary opportunity.
When we are alone, we are left with no choice but to be confronted with ourselves. Our fears, hopes. Our sense of hopelessness. Whether it’s the pressure of unreasonable expectations created by us or other; perhaps it is the secret list of disappointments, perhaps it is our aloneness that confronts us when we are alone. But the story starts in Alone.
That’s where Hope emerges from too.
Why remember Advent?
It’s healthy and good to give pause at this time of year. No matter where you are, the season is changing from hot to cold or cold to warm. Business calendars roll over and many of us find ourselves pondering family, lovers, friends and community. We ponder our sense of togetherness and our sense of aloneness. We wonder what the New Year will bring. We try and navigate a season that is increasingly complex – multiple families, multiple faiths.
The Advent season follows four themes – Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. These eternal ideas are human ideas, not restricted to religion alone. Yet, Advent seems a useful time to refocus on them. Hope emerges from our sense of frailty and our imagination. Peace is a life-long human pursuit and we are living in times of highly publicised civil wars. There is much to be said for meditating on these themes and bringing deeper meaning to our day-to-day existence.
So this week, take a moment and be alone.
What do you see in the mirror?
What are you pregnant with? What rumbles inside you and will not let you go?
What are you reaching into – what newness?
What are you afraid of? What is lonely? What is crowded? What is finished?
Advent is about expectation. The expectation of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love arriving. Interrupting, expanding and challenging the day-to-day human experience.