Advent Firesiders

Arriving (2009)

There is nothing quite like pulling in to a major railway terminal at the end of a long journey, with the train wheels scurling on the curved track and bumping over the points as tracks from all quarters are marshalled into parallel lines. The weariness of the long drive and the almost cursory rituals of the airport baggage hall just do not compare. The train journey is an easy moving picture of life and nature, seen from a position of ease and contemplation which establishes a tension between present joy and the anticipation of arrival; it proves that travelling is at least as good as arriving.

The car and the plane discourage the rituals of arrival, the first imposing the tyranny of the present in map reading and steering, the second leaving no room for preparation, but the train, which, you have guessed, we will call Advent, allows us to get ready for the ritual of arriving. We will recall the life and loves of our hosts; we will not only bring gifts but we will consider when and how to present them; we will recall the particular, the local rituals of guest and host; we will plan how to avoid giving offence and how to give pleasure; and we will place this anticipated event into the pattern of the lives of our hosts and ourselves.

At the end of the train journey we are fairly strictly demarcated as guest or host but in Advent the transaction works both ways: we are the earthly host of Jesus who comes as our guest; and he is our spiritual host in whom we live to dwell.

And so we might first think about this world into which we are welcoming him and ponder how we might make it just a little better before his arrival: how we might be a little more penitent; how we might be a little more prayerful; how we might be a little more thankful for creation and incarnation. And then we might think of the world into which Jesus invites us: where hope is, literally, eternal; where love is, literally, unlimited; and where faith is, also literally, sustained within us by the Holy Spirit.

And, having thought about how and where, we might finally, as the train draws towards its destination, wonder why we are the joyful subjects of this mutual divine and human indwelling; and then we will, if we are open hearted and humble, recognise that we were made to be joyful; and that the purpose of Christmas is to make that joy tangible, not the hope of something we cannot grasp but hope in the human form of a baby for whom we have prepared as we would for the arrival of any baby but knowing, too that he has prepared everything we could possibly want, for us.