Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons - December 3rd 2017

Gypsies: Gwen Raverat

Gypsies: Gwen Raverat

Advent 1.

I love the way certain words or phrases open up our imaginations, of course a lot of this comes from our own cultural setting and what we learnt through our own experiences of life, yet they have a power to unlock our inner sight. Poetry works well for me, not all poems but those that seem to catch a mood or a thought that I can run with. I chanced upon Christina Rossetti's poem Advent and found this section of her first verse very evocative for this first week of Advent:

"Our lamps have burned year after year,
And still their flame is strong.
"Watchman, what of the night?" we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
"No speaking signs are in the sky,"
Is still the watchman's word.

The yearning for something to happen is beautifully heartfelt, made more poignant by the long past years where people have looked and waited for the Lord to come. We know, of course, that Christ does come to us, is with us always on our life journey and reveals himself in the hiddenness of signs and symbols as well as the ever-present power of love. Yet even when we know great love, that unnerving delight found in others and in living things, we still yearn for something beyond us, what Rossetti calls the 'speaking signs in the sky'.
Perhaps that is really what Advent is about, not so much waiting and watching for the coming of Love itself, but a yearning deep in our hearts for someone and some place where all will be well.

The Prophet Isaiah tries to help us see that God is ever with us, linking living beings and God in an inextricable bond that cannot be broken because God is our parent and creator:

"Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands. "(Is 64:7)

This image of potter and clay takes on a huge resonance when we remind ourselves that our own Chrismation, Confirmation, that final stage of Christian Initiation is called sphragis, sealing with the Holy Spirit, the makers stamp which the potter puts on his or her pot to identify it as their own. So with us, whilst we yearn for that final meeting of the Lord with us forever, we are already marked out as God's own people, we wait and we watch, our deepest longings emerge in our Advent journey, for hope in a darkened world, for love to triumph and for our faith to be tested and found true.

I think the Gospel hints at something else, Mark has Jesus saying:

"Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'" (Mk 13:35-37)

We watch, yet as Francis Thompson's poem the Hound of Heaven also suggests, as does the hint in Jesus' words, it is the Lord who all our lives is seeking us out.

"Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest.
Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me.

Happy Advent!

Lectio Divina

Here is Rossetti's full poem, Advent; you will find a number of scriptural links to set you thinking!


This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;

Our lamps have burned year after year,
And still their flame is strong.
"Watchman, what of the night?" we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
"No speaking signs are in the sky,"
Is still the watchman's word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
"Watchman, what of the night?" but still
His answer sounds the same:
"No daybreak tops the utmost hill,

Nor pale our lamps of flame.

"One to another hear them speak,
The patient virgins wise:
"Surely He is not far to seek,"--
"All night we watch and rise."
"The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.

"One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
"Friends watch us who have touched the goal."
"They urge us, come up higher."
"With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ." "They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb."

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us,--we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.
Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, "Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away."

Christina Rossetti 1830-1894.

Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church, Oxford

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