One of the things that I have found especially difficult during Covid-season is not being able to look forward to those happy events which mark the passing of the year, every year. Peterwell, my mother Lodge’s Installation was I think the first to be caught by the first suspension. The Provincial Church Service, Provincial Grand Lodge, the Provincial Officers’ Dinner and many, many other wonderful annual occasions all fell by the wayside. So many other non-Masonic events as well: no services in church at Easter, no birthday meals out, no breaks away…
The Masonic year supports our Masonic duties and pleasures, and we are taught the importance of looking forward, of being progressive, not only for the more significant occasions, but even making a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge. If we do not look forward, if we do not progress, at best we stay where we are, and at worst we go backwards! As human beings I think that we need that encouragement to keep our minds and bodies active by thinking ahead, having things to prepare for, having things to look forward to.
Today marks the beginning of a new Church year with the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is without doubt my favorite season of the Church year, followed closely by Lent, which says a lot about me with both of these seasons being essentially penitential in nature! Too often we think of Advent as the countdown to Christmas, which it is of course in reality, but the season of Advent itself offers us many wonderful riches, some of which are brought in to sharper focus this year than ever before.
While we can’t think of Advent in isolation without keeping an eye on Christmas, it is certainly able to hold its own, if we allow it to do so. A penitential Advent can be so very different to a secular Advent – fasting not feasting, abstaining not indulging, quiet not noisy. There are many things that we won’t be able to do this Advent (I have never understood the appeal of Black Friday!) and ironically this year we may have a little more time and space think about Advent.
Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as Christians prepare to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Jesus Christ in his incarnation at Christmas, but also to look ahead to his second advent as judge at the end of this age, whenever that may be. The Four Last Things as they are called in the Church – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. The characteristic note of Advent is of expectation, even eager anticipation, but not only of Christmas.
Perhaps this is less shocking for us Freemasons than it is for other people. We are taught that our lives are finite and how to face the end of our days on this mortal coil. We are also forewarned that we will have to give an account of our actions and failings during our time on earth. Hardly what many would think of as a fitting reflection as we draw nearer to Christmas, and yet it is entirely appropriate. For our lives here and now are but part of our story, and we are looking ahead, preparing for that which is beyond both our comprehension and imagination.
Our whole lives are a preparation, and this season of Advent reminds us of this. Among other things, a preparation for that moment in time when those four great themes of Advent become a reality for each and every one who has lived and breathed. When everything that we know will be changed. When by the grace and mercy of God we will see the face of our Saviour as he is.
It reminds us not to forget, but rather to remember that we are called to love our fellow creatures, not to receive thanks and praise on earth, but rather to fulfil God’s purposes, so that at the last we may be found to be true and faithful labourers. Living our lives as examples, and serving our brothers and the communities in which we live with vigour and zeal.
I pray that we won’t get overcome by the secular Christmas which, while toned down this year, is now in full swing. Let’s keep Christmas for Christmas. So as we prepare for Christmas, let’s keep Advent - let it prick our conscience, and ask those challenging questions of ourselves, which we can chose to ignore, we don’t have to face, but which can make us better citizens if we seriously contemplate and address.
This hymn written by Lawrence Tuttiet (1825-97) an Anglican priest, contrasts the challenges we face in this life with what, we pray, awaits us through the mercies and by the grace of God:
O quickly come, great Judge of all,
for, awful though thine advent be;
all shadows from the truth will fall,
and falsehood die, in sight of thee.
O quickly come, for doubt and fear
like clouds dissolve when thou art near.
O quickly come, great King of all;
reign all around us, and within;
let sin no more our souls enthrall,
let pain and sorrow die with sin.
O quickly come, for thou alone
canst make thy scattered people one.
O quickly come, true Life of all;
for death is mighty all around;
on every home his shadows fall,
on every heart his mark is found.
O quickly come, for grief and pain
can never cloud thy glorious reign.
O quickly come, sure Light of all
for gloomy night broods o'er our way;
and weakly souls begin to fall
with weary watching for the day.
O quickly come, for round thy throne
no eye is blind, no night is known.
I offer this prayer:
"Almighty and everlasting God, who orderest all things in heaven and on earth: we give thee thanks and praise that thou didst make all ages a preparation for the coming of the Saviour, our blessed Redeemer. Prepare us for the coming of him whom thou dost send, and grant that of his fullness we may all receive." Amen.
And I pray God’s richest blessings on you and those dear to you throughout this beautiful season of expectation, anticipation and preparation.