Despite being one of the shortest of the liturgical seasons,
I think Advent is my favourite. There’s something mysterious and wonderful about the readings and music in church services
during the three or four weeks (depending when Christmas falls), ripe as they are with themes of expectation and hope. And
as we watch for God’s loving action in the world today we prepare to celebrate that one action in history which was
so incredible and unique – that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus – and nothing would ever be the same
wealth of poetry, art and music which springs from the Advent themes and from the birth of Christ is both vividly visceral
and tantalisingly strange. One of my favourite advent hymns is, sadly, not in our current hymnbook at St Martin’s. It’s
also one of the oldest of Christian hymns, with words that were written by St Ambrose in the fourth century. It includes the
Come, thou redeemer of the earth,
and manifest thy virgin birth...
Begotten of no human will,
but of the Spirit, thou art still
The Word of God in flesh arrayed,
the promised Fruit to man displayed.
Ambrose refers to Christ as ‘the promised Fruit’,
which suggests the fulfilment of the hopes of the prophets and the psalms as well as recalling the fall of humanity through
the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Christ, the second Adam, will reverse what has befallen us in our
human state, and reconcile us to God.
year I was fortunate enough to have a few days away in Prague in late November. There were many wonderful Christmas decorations
on sale in the shops and on the stalls of the Christmas markets. However, there was one particular tree decoration which I
found compelling in its simple imagery – it was a wooden cut-out of an apple, with Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph
nestled in the centre of the apple. Having bought it, I found myself meditating upon this image through the weeks of Advent
and Christmas – Jesus, like a tiny seed in the centre of the apple, growing to bring new life and hope and peace into
the the world
. When the pregnant Virgin Mary goes to visit
her kinswoman Elizabeth, as recounted in Luke’s Gospel, Elizabeth exclaims ‘Blessed is the fruit of your womb!’.
The fruit of Mary’s womb is the incarnate God, fully human and fully divine. In his hymn, Ambrose
Forth from his chamber goeth he,
that royal home of purity,
a giant in twofold substance one,
rejoicing now his course to run.
As we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth again
I want to encourage each of us to find some quiet time during the weeks of Advent to ponder this image, and how it speaks
to us. To ponder how the seeds of Jesus’ love are sown in our lives – and other people’s – and how
they are growing (or not) and what might help them to. I love the fact that, depending which way you slice through an apple,
you either get a star shape, made by the pips, or you don’t. The same apple contains both possibilities of showing itself.
We too can show very different realities of ourselves to the world around us.
May we be like Mary and Joseph – faithful and loving, supportive of
each other despite the shame and difficulty of the human situation they found themselves to be in, and with a sense of God
at work, wonderfully yet bafflingly, in their lives.
With my prayers for a blessed Advent and Christmas,