Gaudete Sunday

 

I find Advent a very reflective season.  Perhaps as we draw closer to the end of the calendar year it is natural for us to look back on the year that has passed.  I also find it a natural time of year to take stock of things, and try to look at myself as objectively as I can – what have I been taught this year of grace and how have I been changed?

 

This year with the experience of Pandemic I find that I have come to a much clearer understanding of what is truly important to me, and what gives me real joy.  Things have been stripped back to the bare essentials this year, few luxuries and the like, and it really has changed my perspective.  I think that I have learned that most of the things which are of greatest value to me, I previously took for granted, not in a selfish way, but simply because they have always been there.

 

Top of the list of course are my parents.  I have always fully appreciated what they do for me, and never hesitate telling people that I could not do half of what I do without their unfailing support.  We have spent a lot more time together this year, and I guess that it could have gone one of two ways!  However we have supported one another in ways that we haven’t needed to before.  There is no doubt that our families, those nearest to us, enrich our lives beyond measure by simply being there.

 

Family is closely followed by friends.  I think that our relationships with our friends are different to that with our family.  In some ways more distant, in other ways more close.  We do different things, say different things, it is a different relationship.  True friends have shone like stars in the night’s sky this year.  We all need our friends, and we are fortunate that our fraternity encourages true brotherhood which cultivates the closest and most enduring of friendships, and how good it is to see, and even better to savour.

 

What I have lamented the most during Covid-season is the lack of physical interaction.  I used to see so many different people in different contexts, and enjoyed it to an extent that I only now know.  From Lodge meetings to Care Homes to clients.  Phone, Zoom, email, Skype whatever just isn’t the same as that face to face, in person interaction.  I’ve also noticed how difficult it is to have conversations while wearing face coverings, there are so many social cues that are concealed by them, which I wasn’t aware of before.  Our interaction is so much more than mere words.

 

I am extremely fortunate that my circumstances are comparatively comfortable.  Yes, I have had to struggle to keep the business going, but we have managed fairly well and as matters stand I have no financial concerns.  Things however can change very quickly, and that is an important lesson we are taught.  I am grateful that I have the means to live, to enjoy good things like food and drink and also to help others.  With the launch of the 2026 Festival all I can do is encourage each one of us to give according to our ability to support the invaluable work of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.  We don’t give to receive, but not one of us can say that we will never be in need.

 

The final thing that has supported and upheld me this year is appreciating the created order which surrounds us at all times.  We live in such a beautiful part of the world, and just taking the time to appreciate the wonder of the workmanship of the Grand Geometrician of the Universe can impart such rich blessings.  It also reminds us of the small, but important part each one of us has to play in the created order.

 

I suspect that the top of your list will probably look similar to mine, but as we work down the list our different personalities and situations will give rise to differences.  What I note from my list is that in each category I feel that I have received so much more than I have given: love from my parents, genuine friendship from my friends, all the blessings proffered by others in such diverse ways, and as for creation well it never stops giving.  When I stop and think about it, I realise how extremely fortunate I am.

 

What underpins all these aspects of my life is my faith in God.  The challenge this year has been to keep my eye on God and to look out for his hand at work in such different circumstances.  It would have been easy to think that God had given up on us and had abandoned us in our trials, but that is not so.  If we look for God, sooner or later we will encounter him, sometimes he takes us by surprise, other times we really have to persevere, and sometimes he comes looking for us!  His presence is never far from us, but we are not always aware of it.

 

As I ponder these things, I also notice that I am very good at asking God for what I think I need, for what others need.  I’m pretty good at saying thank you to God for the blessings we receive, but I’m not very good at asking God what he wants of me ... 

 

I don’t really like anticipating Christmas, because what then is left for the Season of Christmas proper?  However as I think about what God wants of me, the last verse of Christina Rossetti’s beautiful carol just keeps coming back to me – so why not?! 

 

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

 

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

 

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

 

I offer this prayer of St Augustine:

 

"Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being, who hast made us for thyself, so that our hearts are restless till they rest in thee: Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose, that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing thy will, no weakness from doing it; but that in thy light we may see light clearly, and in thy service find our perfect freedom."  Amen.

 

May God bless you as you continue with your preparations to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace.

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