On a liturgical note: December 2020

By Canon Philip Gillespie

‘The Hopes and Fears of all the Years are met in Thee tonight’
• O little town of Bethlehem (lyrics by Phillips Brooks, 1868) 

Hopeful, fearful, or a mixture of the two – where is your heart at the moment?
As with Lent earlier this year, so now our living of this 2020 Advent season will be a little ‘particular’ – particular and unusual because of the uncertainties and fears of a still-spreading and powerful coronavirus, yet tinged with the hope of the effectiveness of lockdown provisions and then the possibility of a vaccine which may well mean that the early months of 2021 will be marked by a gradual return to regularity.
Sometimes this is referred to as a return to normality, back to the way things were – yet quite possibly things will never be ‘the way they were’ … and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We have learned much over these past months, not only about the valiant work of generous people in caring for others but also the fact that science and expertise can take us only part of the way. It is compassion and care and basic common humanity which complete the journey.
Advent first of all concentrates the mind and heart on the future coming of the Lord, the Parousia. It is not a time for filling us with a fear and trembling which will take all the joy and peacefulness from our hearts, but for putting all things into their true perspective; an invitation to reflect upon the graciousness of God, the promises of God, and the fulfilment of those promises in the person of Jesus. Having taken the time to reflect on that ‘graciousness fulfilled’, we are all the better prepared to celebrate the Word made flesh over the Feasts of Christmas: Nativity, Epiphany and Baptism.
At Saint Cuthbert’s Seminary we often used the following reflection at our Advent carol service – it may be of use to you in your prayer in this most unusual and challenging season:

‘The voices of Advent speak to us of light and hope, of witness and of commitment. They call us to repentance, to “prepare a way” for the coming of the Lord. The tenor of this season demands that we draw aside for reflection and contemplation, at a time when the world clamours for our attention.

‘We become trapped on the express train to Christmas Day from which there seems to be no escape. But the strength of this time of preparation lies in the ability to provide a respite, a quiet corridor, a moment of peace amid the noise and rush of the day. Advent, a season as brief as the winter days it encompasses, gives us an opportunity to develop the neglected art of holy waiting.’