By The Rev’d Phil Wales, Distinctive Deacon
Advent is a time of preparation. We are waiting to celebrate Christ’s first coming to us. Fully human and fully divine: God incarnate. It’s a special period of joyful expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promise to us.
Nowadays here in the UK we tend to overlook another aspect of Advent. For many centuries, the season was more associated with periods of abstinence and fasting than it is today. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the familiar questions people often ask one another around this time (‘Are you ready for Christmas?’ or ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’) are once again taking on a larger significance. We are all being required, temporarily, to give up some of our usual freedoms to help one another remain healthy.
Even so, Advent, rather than being overshadowed by these all too real concerns, may become a space for deeper contemplation on the mystery at the centre of the Christian faith. This unexpected opportunity is not to be hurried or skipped over, even if it means that the questions we thought we had laid aside come to the fore again. As the Gospels record, even among Jesus’ closest friends and allies, doubts about Christ’s nature were never far away.
In St Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 11) John the Baptist, imprisoned, experiences profound anguish about Jesus’ identity. So much so that he sent messengers to ask him: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?’ Jesus responded by pointing to the signs of God’s kingdom all around.
Hearing this from John, who had confidently proclaimed Jesus’ arrival as the Messiah, may seem, on the surface, deeply troubling. That is until we realise that it gives voice to the gap between what John had hoped for, longed for, and the wretchedness of his imprisonment and what was to take place for him.
Of course, John’s question (‘Are you really the Messiah?’) is really one for each of us today. Jesus knows, God knows, that the clearest response to our doubts about the answer comes from our own personal relationship with God, flowing from the very depths of our being. Once we allow ourselves to set aside our prior expectations which have led us to shape our understanding of what God ‘should’ be like, we are making room for God as he truly came to us, to enter more fully into our lives.
In the end, doubt, however much it may take hold of us, is not the end point. It can never be the destination because it keeps us focused on ourselves and separates us from God. But acknowledging our doubts and offering them up to God in prayer opens us more to God’s transformative love. Then our hearts are more ready to experience the wonder, majesty, and glory of God’s kingdom here on earth, just as He intended from the very beginning.
Lord I believe, this Advent help my unbelief. Amen.