Advent at Glenstal Abbey – Back to the Future
The 1986 blockbuster film, Back to the Future, is not about Advent, the four-week season preparing for Christmas. However, both the film and the season are focused on time. While the main character of the film moves backwards and then forwards in time, Advent invites us to consider Christ in history, Christ today and Christ in the future. The season is divided into two unequal parts. During the first part of the season until December 16, we prepare for the second coming of Christ, which has not yet happened. We train ourselves to expect Christ’s coming. Our hope for this second coming is not without foundation because we know that Christ has come already 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Christians await in hope for Christ to come and establish peace and justice in our troubled world. Many recognise the need for genuine peace and wait in hope for Christ’s coming. The second part of Advent, from December 17, looks forward to the imminent coming of Christ at Christmas. Because of our “expectation training” for Christ’s final coming in the first part of Advent, Christmas can now be experienced afresh. Entering into the dynamic of Advent creates the possibility of expecting the freshness of Christmas again.
The Advent wreath, with its four candles, keeps time for every parish community in the countdown to Christmas. The wreath is full of symbolism. The circular wreath, which has no beginning or end, and the evergreen branches symbolise the eternity of God and our promise of eternal life. The four candles represent the four Sundays of Advent. As each Sunday passes, another candle is lit and the expectation of the coming of Christ increases. Christ is the light of the world, so the increasing light of the wreath in the depths of the darkness of winter symbolises his coming triumph over the darkness and all that the darkness represents; death, sorrow and pain.
There are also special figures in the recommended readings for Advent, namely the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. Isaiah speaks of Christ’s establishment of justice, where swords will be smelted down into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. The metal of the instruments of war will be transformed into tools to provide food. This wonderful vision of Isaiah nourishes our hope for Christ’s coming. John is the voice who cries in the wilderness and alerts us that it is high time to prepare for the Lord. Finally, it is through Mary’s yes that Christ comes, bringing gifts of peace and hope. By entering into the dynamic of Advent, we can learn to once again experience the true wonder and joy of Christmas. This feast is not only for children. We are all in need of the Christmas gifts of peace, justice and joy.
A series of talks entitled Here is the Lord: Come out to meet Him at Glenstal on the first three Sundays of Advent proposes to help people enter into the dynamic of Advent. On December 1, Dr Jessie Rogers opened the series with a call to rouse ourselves and be attentive to the coming of the Lord. This Sunday, Luke MacNamara OSB will explore the family tree of Jesus, which contains a very varied group of men and women. The story of Jesus involves all sorts of people, including very many who consider themselves beyond the reach of God.
The final talk, on December15, will be given by Cuthbert Brennan OSB and examine Joseph, the most overlooked figure of the infancy stories of Jesus. The person and mission of Joseph has much to teach us about humility and generosity, key values that enable us to enter into the Christmas dynamic of new life. All talks take place at 4.30pm in the Monastery library at Glenstal Abbey.
Finally, for the musically minded, the Glenstal Abbey School carol service takes place this Sunday at 3pm. The 30-strong boys’ choir, including many fine Clare voices, will sing a selection of carols and chant. Further details of the series of talks at Glenstal Abbey are available online. All talks are streamed and recordings are available on the website.
For further information, call 061 621005 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luke MacNamara OSB,
Monk of Glenstal Abbey/lecturer in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth