Advent – a time for preparation, for prayer, for reflection…
These reflections and poems by Pax Christ members offer useful prompts: in his reflection on the Psalms, Paul advocates ‘getting real, facing facts’; Kate expresses Advent longing, asking ‘When will the fruit on the fig tree ripen?’. In the words of Annie O’Connor, to hear God’s voice, we need to ‘slow down and listen’.
Advent’s Empty Journeying To Joy
by Rob Esdaile
Perhaps no one ever told you but these Advent days were not devised to be a costly, fractious time of burden and fatigue. Once their purpose wasn't that of filling up the freezer fit to burst, preloading us with Christmas cheer and emptying our bank accounts to boot. The point was patient, hope-filled waiting, an emptying, a making space, the building of a nest, a stable place where love could be renewed. A time to hear the angel's words anew: "You've found God's favour, child;" to wonder how, then, this could be and feel the Spirit's shadow coming near. A time to journey first into Judaean hills to share another's joy, to help and to be held, to sing Magnificats wherever heralds of true Gospel hope are born. A time at last to wend our way to Bethlehem, to find there is no place for Christ among the gaudy palaces of plenty or the noisy taverns of excess. But in a dark cave dug beneath the House of Bread, in the unexpected caverns of our story, too, there we head and there we wait in prayer to hear the infant's cry and angel's song and find our world reborn.
© Rob Esdaile, 2021
Reflections for Advent 2021 by Paul McGowan
The First Sunday: Psalm 24
Not yet done with November and now Advent is upon us. Still pondering the death of loved ones, the aftermath of COP 26, the collapse of sporting values and the greed of politicians. We have to drag all this with us into the new liturgical year.
‘I trust you; let me not be disappointed’. I’m counting on you, so you’d better not let me down. This is how the conversation begins in the Psalm, and also how it ends. Disappointment is a terrible outcome. Radical disappointment, that is. When something cannot be restored. The possibility of disappointment in the Lord is an unusual and shocking thought, but Psalm 24 is much more than the dutiful piety the Lectionary excerpts suggest. The Psalm as a whole is different. It is not a list of things to do which will keep you safe. The speaker is a real person, someone old enough to look back on a life reasonably, but not particularly, well lived: ‘Do notremember the sins of my youth … forgive my guilt, for it is great’. An ordinary sort of life, with its difficulties, foolishnesses, nastinesses, anxieties and dangers. Someone still in search of a way, even after all this, or maybe because of all this. Still feeling like a novice, an ignoramus. Still looking for the way out, the way forward, the way back, the way through. Still falling for the traps: ‘he rescues my feet from the snare’.
It’s the song of the not very bad and the not very good. The one always looking over their shoulder and sometimes seeing the bigger picture: ‘Redeem Israel, O God, from all its distress’. In fact, it’s a good way to start. By getting real, facing facts. No doubt about it, we are where are and ‘the way’ we are looking for can’t be anywhere else.
The Second Sunday: Psalm 125
Another Psalm. Another person’s head. What a dream it was! I mean, now it’s a memory, just in the head. Then, it was a hope, something to believe in, to look forward to.
How do we keep on singing? Where do the songs go when we can’t sing them? We couldn’t do it in captivity. You only sing when you’re winning, as the football fans taunt.
To get to the starting-point for the meaning of Psalm 125 we have to pick it up in the middle, not at the beginning. The key to it all is not the ancient triumph but the ongoing predicament, the current ‘bondage’, the thing which continues to enslave: ‘Deliver us, Lord, from our bondage’. The comparison is with one of the great moments of triumph. Everybody saw the big event, of course. Even the heathens. The whole world noticed it! We still sing about it.
But now what! Are we any more free than we were then! No. We’re back in bondage. Where did it all go, that freedom? And what are we left with? The daily toil, battling with the elements, hoping for the best, a decent harvest if we’re lucky.
And that’s the future we have to look forward to. Planting, reaping. Planting, reaping. Back then, they really were slaves, real slaves, but with a vision of something better. Now, we’re free, but stuck. Looking back, we can see something was coming for them. From where we are now, we can’t see an end to it for ourselves.
Educational Resources for Advent
To explore Pax Christi’s Education Resources for Advent & Christmas look here for
A Bethlehem Story – a PowerPoint reflection for children giving a sense of Bethlehem as a living place today.
Holy Family Prayer booklet – outlining a prayer time using a Holy Family crib set, and information on Bethlehem.
Advent Activities and Reflections – a collection of activities and reflections on peace during Advent.
Advent and Christmas in Bethlehem 2021
Christmas celebrations will take place in a very difficult climate in the Holy Land but many individuals and groups refuse to give up hope and are searching for non-violent ways to work for human rights and a just and peaceful future.
Please try some of these ideas:
- include prayers for justice, peace and security for Palestine and Israel in your Advent and Christmas services. Light a candle for peace in Palestine and Israel each day of Advent;
- look for ways in which your Advent Services and Christmas crib can show how the people of Bethlehem are living now – perhaps build a wall around or through the crib and discuss who would be inside or outside. Israeli citizens are denied access to Bethlehem. So if Mary and Joseph were travelling today they would not get in – the crib would be empty!
- See Kairos Palestine Christmas Alert 2021 A resource full of reflections, prayers, and actions for each of the four Sundays of Advent and for Christmas Day. https://www.kairospalestine.ps/index.php/resources/alerts/kairos-christmas-alert-2021
- send a peace message to our sisters and brothers in Palestine email@example.com
- reflect on Palestinians today attempting to make journeys in Palestine. The checkpoints throughout Palestine and the 30’ separation wall prevent Palestinians from travelling freely so Christians and Moslems who live in Bethlehem, totally surrounded by the wall, are separated from their family and friends and cannot leave without a special permit. They are imprisoned by the wall. Christians living outside Bethlehem are usually denied permits to worship there at Christmas;
- write to your MP and MEP explaining the denial of freedom of movement and ask that they work for freedom of movement for all people in Palestine and Israel. www.writetothem.com
- adapt Christmas carols to reflect the situation in Bethlehem now.
- give Christmas gifts that come from Palestinian, for olive wood carvings and craft goods from L’Arche in Bethlehem available from the shop
POEM: The Waiting by Katherine Halstrom
When will the phone bring the news I’m awaiting?
When will the date of our holiday come?
When will our child done her first school uniform?
When will my loved one at last marry me?
The waiting is long till asylum is granted,
Painful and harsh for the men behind bars,
Dreary and sad for the sick and the sleepless,
Lonely and anxious when waiting to die.
When will the fruit on the fig tree ripen?
When will the sweet-scented rose bud bloom?
When will the rainbow conquer the rain clouds,
And when will a fresh sunrise lift up our heads?
Come! longed-for freedom, bring peace to the stricken;
Come, Lord Messiah – deliver us all.
A young mother’s womb is stirring…it’s Advent…
O Mary, give birth to the Christ-Child we love.
Copyright ©️ 2021 Katherine Holstrom Prayers for Pax Christi – a collection of 25 poems is available for £5.00 from the shop
Reflection Sheets from Anne O’Connor
Pax Christi member and author, Anne O’Connor, has written Advent Reflection sheets for the four weeks of Advent. Week One: Getting Ready invites us to ‘slow down and listen’ and begins with a quotation from Anne’s daughter, Annie who died suddenly from natural causes in June 2020.
‘God speaks to us in all sorts of ways – through scripture, through nature, through other people. However, unless we slow down and listen, we miss his prompting and his voice.’Annie O’Connor, The Camino: Finding Stillness and Presence
(for Catholic Charismatic Renewal) 2019
Advent Service 2021
Unfortunately, Pax Christi is unable to hold its Advent Service this year. It’s disappointing, but we hope we can all get together again next year.
The Advent Service from 2021 can be seen here
Further Advent materials available here