Advent Prayer and Poems I

In the Hebrew tradition, Sabbath is not simply a day but a mindset, a living and lived-in symbol. 

The day is the centrepiece of the week; anticipated for three days, practiced for one, and remembered for three days after.
from Keri Wyatt Kent  Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity

In the same way, Advent and Christmas can reflect this same mindset : 
the time of anticipation and longing ...
for prayer, joyful celebration and remembering. 

I love this prayer by Henri J. M. Nouwen :

"Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, 
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. 
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. 
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. 
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!"
Some Poems for Advent
Quote of Unknown Origin
If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things,
and again with things,
if we consider ourselves so unimportant
that we must fill every moment of our lives with action,
when will we have the time
to make the long slow journey across the desert
as did the Magi?
Or sit and watch the stars
as did the Shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child
as did Mary?
For each of us, there is a desert to travel,
a star to discover,
and a being within ourselves to bring to life.
 Michael Podesta 

Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God” – is a huge challenge to us. but there are risks and rewards in stillness.

The risk is to stop doing and look beyond attainments, career, honours, wealth, all those “things” - stop and look for a sense of personal significance.
The reward for Mary was.
her saying “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word”.

Although the Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunication on March 25th it is in my mind that she carries Christ in her womb all through Advent.


‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos
Hymn, Greece

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. 
No one mentions

The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.

God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often

those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue.                                  

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.

Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,

only asked
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God. 

Poem by Denise Lebertov
Painting Annunciation by John Collier
This Annunciation is set in suburbia, but the symbolism is quite traditional. 
Mary is reading from Isaiah about the Virgin who conceives and bears a son. 
The lily represents her purity, and she is welcoming St. Gabriel.

Scots pine silhouette 02

 Advent 1955 John Betjeman

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale

The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound -
Journey to what? to whom? to where?

The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’

And how, in fact, do we prepare

The great  day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -

They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?

The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.

We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well

We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!

‘The time draws near the birth of Christ’.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.

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