This blog post was written by Dr Robyn Wrigley-Carr who is the author of Music of Eternity: Meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill – The Archbishop of York’s Advent Book 2021.
Advent is a season for being attentive to God. Being intentional about our Advent attentiveness is essential I find, for the month before Christmas can be a time of noise and distractibility. Everything starts to ramp up. Shops become crowded, Christmas music blares and our calendars become cluttered with events. But within this increased activity, we’re invited to make a deliberate decision to pause, wait and be attentive to God – a counterpoise to all that surrounds us. This Advent you’re invited to engage in a dance in four parts through pondering meditations by Evelyn Underhill in Music of Eternity (The Archbishop of York’s Advent Book for 2021). There is also a study to go alongside the book which you can view here – https://homegroups.org.uk/series/music-of-eternity/
In Part 1 we start with God – God is! Evelyn helps us to see the big picture of Eternity – the mighty symphony of the Triune God enfolding us. So often the Christmas tinsel and busyness of the season distract us from seeing that God perpetually comes to us. Perhaps this Advent could be a time when we welcome God’s coming and try to notice how God’s ongoing action always precedes our action; to be attentive to God’s Eternal Love brooding over our lives in our pandemic-weary world. God constantly comes to us but most of the time we’re so focused on ourselves, we don’t see God in His majesty and Otherness. So Evelyn invites us to shift beyond our ‘supernatural shopping lists’ to adoring worship of God. So Part 1 closes with two phrases from the Lord’s Prayer about adoration – ‘Father, Hallowed be Your Name’ and ‘Your Kingdom Come’.
In Part 2, we await the coming of the Christ-child: Christ is coming! We’re expectant and hopeful, and as we anticipate Christ’s arrival, we engage in some quieter, more reflective types of prayer. Evelyn helps us await God’s coming through engaging in vocal prayer, meditation and contemplation.
Part 3 is all about Jesus: Christ has come! We recognise God’s coming in His Son. This Part is deliberately the longest section, for Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of Christ, and we need space and time to gaze at the one we’re waiting for. But we don’t just focus upon the baby in the manger, but also, Christ the man – His person, words, actions and the depth and breadth of His breathtakingly generous love. As we ponder Christ’s life from birth to ascension, we gradually awaken to the wonder of who Jesus is!
Part 4 is all about our response. Christ has come and now we embrace God’s coming through holy living. This includes adoration of God, partaking of the Eucharist, and living sacrificially and humbly, in loving, forgiving, peace-giving ways. Then we close with the Epilogue, waiting and watching for the life of the world to come, for Jesus’ return in glory: Come Lord Jesus!
The weeks before Christmas can be a time of mixed emotions. Somehow Christmas seems to amplify our feelings of loss. After many months of COVID-19 lockdowns and with over five million deaths globally, Christmas celebrations this year will involve grief for many families. Empty chairs at the Christmas table – whether through death or fractured relationships – will be a reality for many. Time to gently process that grief and loss through gazing at Christ this Advent, might bring some healing, refreshing balm.
Whatever our circumstances, Evelyn invites us to focus on the big picture this Advent – to ‘keep ourselves carefully tuned in, sensitive to the music of Eternity. We can never adore enough.’ Our prayer needs to begin, end and be enclosed in an atmosphere of adoration, argues Evelyn. Without adoration, we lose this sense of proportion. As we encounter God in His majesty and Otherness, we know ourselves by contrast as very small. Without adoration, our souls contract, our service isn’t right and we can’t develop a sense of wonder or mystery. So adoration is key this Advent as we wait for the Christ-child who is fully God, fully human. We adore Him for who He is: ‘O come let us adore Him – Christ the Lord!’
And may this Advent also be a time when Christ is born in us. Christ becomes incarnate in each person in visible, tangible form, as the Spirit moulds and changes us from the inside out. Evelyn argues we’re not really Christians until this transformation takes place. So this Advent, let us invite the Spirit to make us more like Jesus. And let us pray for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in the global Church, so God can work through us, bringing light and love to a broken world.