Over the last two years but particularly the last six months of Covid lockdown, I’ve been walking for dear life in company with an entire suburb of people and their dogs (well, pets really because I have seen a few cats on leads as well!). We’ve walked at all hours, in all weathers and we’ve become very nimble at avoiding all the newly mounted Mulga Bill’s who’ve dressed themselves in cycling clothes and taken to the paths with great enthusiasm and boundless confidence. I confess that I’ve loved every minute of every walk from walking into the dawn and hearing the birds wake up and get busy, to walking in serious rain and watching stormwater trickles turn into raging torrents, to having complicated work-related conversations sitting on a tree stump in the bush and walking late at night as the world quietens down. I was always a walker but it was just for ‘exercise’, now it’s for ‘dear life’ and simple joy and I wouldn’t miss it.
Most of the story of Covid has been expressed in terms of the threat of illness and death, the need for restriction of personal freedoms in the interest of public safety, the economic consequences for individuals and small and large businesses, the educational consequences for whole cohorts of school children and tertiary students. Mostly and perhaps surprisingly the community has accepted the necessity for restriction and dealt with or just borne the consequences. In many ways, it’s been a period of enforced public ‘fasting’ from a lot of the things we’ve taken for granted. For many people, it has also been a period of taking stock, a time to reflect on life’s priorities and direction in the light of their Covid experience. Many of us now know that working from home is a real option, there are stories anticipating a ‘great resignation’ as people act on their Covid learnings to make new life choices and we all realise the life-giving importance of relationship – family and friends – as the foundation of a healthy community.
As I write this, the jacarandas in in full shout which always tells me that Advent is around the corner.
As I write this, the jacarandas in in full shout which always tells me that Advent is around the corner. While we don’t currently associate Advent with fasting, both Advent and Lent are actually penitential seasons (hence the purple colour) – both seasons in which the church turns inward to reflect and take stock and the spiritual discipline of fasting has been integral to that process. Which is to say, quite simply, that there is much more to Advent than ‘getting ready for Christmas’. Advent itself is a time for the church to turn inward, a time for reflection and active, eager waiting, not for Christmas (which will come ready or not) but for fulfilment of the great promises of God.
Admittedly, it does take deliberate effort to ignore ‘Christmas creep’ as the Christmas marketing frenzy ramps up after All Saints Day. It’s hard to focus on Advent when we’re craving the warmth of family and the comforts of familiar routines. However, it is important that the church remembers that we always live in the Time Between – between the first coming in a stable in Bethlehem and the second coming ‘in glory, to judge the living and the dead.’
Advent is always an edgy time between the now and the not yet – the edginess and disruption wrought by the Covid experience is simply the latest live example. Will pre-Covid and post-Covid be the same? When is ‘back to normal’? What is normal and will it be worth having?
Of course, these and other Advent questions arise in relation to any significant – public or personal – disruptive event and the pandemic hasn’t been the only one to claim our attention in recent times. Front of mind for me are the bushfires of 2019-20, the murder of George Floyd and the eruption of Black Lives Matter anger, and the catastrophic explosion in Beirut – all of them symptomatic of the larger system failures that press upon us and which must be held in tension with the promise of future glory and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring.
I well understand Karl Barth’s exclamation – ‘What other time or season can the church ever have but that of Advent!’
Keep awake, watch and be prepared, wait actively for dear life for the God who comes!