Reveal among us the light of your presence, that we may behold your power and glory.
A Villanelle for Advent
Silent bird upon the water, nest
Wide-winged in flight, you bent down from the West,
Upon the voiceless shallow wave; lest
So gently lay upon the lake your breast
You have no more, for at the soul's behest
When the Word and song are born, you will be blest,
It's around now that Advent calendars start appearing—open a door every day and there's a new scene to see; and usually these days a new chocolate to eat! It's one of the few things that still survive from the traditional run-up to Christmas, the old four-week period of preparation. And it's interesting that it's tied up with this thing about opening doors, being surprised.
I think that one of the really important things about this pre-Christmas period should be getting in touch again with excitement and surprise. Christmas ought to be about surprises, welcome surprises. It's a shame if it becomes—as it often does—a bit of a grim duty, all the shopping to do and the cards to write and so on. But Advent calendars give us a kind of nudge to say 'Look: this world is more than you thought. Under the surface, there can be wonderful things, new things to find out about yourself and each other and the whole world you live in'.
We're most alive when we're discovering new and astonishing things about each other—it's what happens when people fall in love, of course, which is why love is for most of us the thing that more than anything else makes us feel alive. And for Christians this Advent period of getting ready for Christmas is getting ready to discover new things about God—remembering the surprise that everybody felt at the first Christmas. God showed his love in a new way with the birth of Jesus, and people were amazed at this—and started falling in love with God.
It's worth trying, in the run-up to Christmas, to ask if we really want to discover new things—or whether we're just in a rut, trapped by duty, weighed down by boredom. Because if we really are ready for a surprise, God's ready to tell us at Christmas that there's more to him than we thought—and more to us and our neighbours as well.
You are the Father who welcomes home
William Byrd, Vigilante, five-part motet, with all parts sung by Simon Lo Castro