An Advent Message to the Brethren of the Oratory
from Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS, our Father Superior
So, the time of waiting has begun.
The readings for the First Sunday of Advent will not allow us simply to imagine the days ahead are only a preparation for the First Coming of Christ. Of course we all know that hour. It’s etched even into the minds of a very secular Australia, though there is evidently some confusion about whether it marks the arrival of Jesus or of Santa! Sadly, for many, the rush to the deadline 25th December will be full of distractions, irritations, present buying, efforts to be nice, and over indulgence, to the extent that many will heave a sigh of relief when it’s all over.
For others it will be a reminder of loneliness or alienation, and perhaps a reminder that they do not have the financial wherewithal to celebrate a ‘proper’ Christmas. It’s a tragic irony indeed that to celebrate Christmas in ‘western’ fashion you have to spend money to prove it matters, when the One who is truly at the heart of it all comes at no cost to us, though much to himself.
The Holy Mother seems to me to give some insight into what we are about as we wait in our liturgical time for the great feast of the Incarnation. For Mary, like every pregnant woman (she is blessed among women) is waiting for one who is already with her, within her. In common conversation, people often ask, ‘When is the baby coming?’ The expectant mother will sometimes roll her eyes in the sure knowledge that the one to come is already making his or her presence very much felt within her!
We don’t pretend when the ‘bells of waiting Advent ring’ that Jesus is not already with us. We don’t take on a sort of liturgical amnesia as we live and enjoy the annual drama of God’s saving work among us. As the quintessentially English poet John Betjeman in his Advent poem marvels ‘he lives today in bread and wine’. In our Rule, as much as we can, we seek and find him there as an indispensable part of our faithfulness to him and of our preparation for his arrival.
Many of you will be busy in these days, seeking to help folk see, in the midst of everything else, the One who lies humbly and easily unnoticed in the feeding trough, and on the altar. Those of us who are retired and perhaps less busy, can I ask you to tuck those of us who are into your prayer most especially? Keeping ‘the hour’ will not be easy at a time of the year when it is most important. Your prayer will be our consolation.
Of course, as I alluded to at the beginning, it’s not just the arrival at Bethlehem that demands our attention and meditation, for his second coming, the expectation of which is so evident in the New Testament that it cannot be ignored or disregarded, though it is beyond our imagining. Our Creed echoes the Scriptures when it says that his coming again ‘will be in glory’. His first coming was with glory but it was a sort of hidden glory. His second will not be hidden, but it will nevertheless be the same Jesus, the same Good Shepherd, the same one who knows every heart, and makes excuses, offers himself that we be excused.
We don’t know that hour, and I’m glad we don’t. We are clearly not meant to! Just as I’m glad I do not know the date of my death, for if I did, I would surely spend my time relentlessly thinking of it, counting down to it, and be distracted from living well today. So we are called simply to live as well as we can, by grace and grit, staying close to Jesus, day by day. This day by day life is was at the heart of the life of the early ones (Acts 2:42-47) and is at the heart of the monastic tradition, and our Oratory tradition. The daily discipline designed to help us keep the eye of our heart firmly looking unto Jesus.
May Advent be a time when we wait in hope and joy for the One who has already proved himself to be faithful and is available to be conceived in us, as surely as he was in Mary.
As we continue on in the Oratory life, I thank you for the call to be Superior and will seek to follow in the good steps of my predecessors.
Be assured of daily prayers.
O Holy and every blessed spirit, who didst overshadow the holy Virgin Mother of our Lord, and caused her to conceive in a miraculous and mysterious manner: be pleased to overshadow my soul, and enlighten my spirit, that I may conceive the holy Jesus in my heart, and may bear him in my mine, and may grow up to the fulness of the stature of Christ, to be a perfect person in Christ Jesus. Amen.
A prayer by the 17th Century Anglican divine, Jeremy Taylor