Advent 2023 - the Daily Reflections
This is where I'll compile all the daily reflections for Advent 2023!
2 // To Brim With Holy Light
'In Him was life, and that life was the light of all ...' John 1
* * *
As darkness begins to shroud this time of year again, how captivating the light becomes!
The moon has peeped fulsomely this week from behind the clouds, and Jupiter has kept close company with her in the evenings. On one gorgeous night (did you see?) the two were encircled by a giant lunar halo. Meanwhile solitary Venus is set like a jewel in the southerly morning skies!
I’m sure, when we really stop, intentionally, to ‘see the light’, we reconnect with so much more. Turn your face to feel the weak warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day - the delightful word is ‘apricity’ - and there’s a warmth behind the warmth, a light behind the light: you could call it a kiss of life-light from your Creator. That’s what it feels like to me.
* * *
Of course, we rely powerfully on metaphor to describe, or flesh out, our experience of the otherwise indescribable God - “God of God, Light of light,” we sing in the carol’s simple yet mysterious lines. Yet the wonder is that the One who made the stars reached out beyond metaphor - “now in flesh appearing” - to dwell among us, too.
The Light showed up, to light the Way: stretched out splintered carpenter’s hands toward the most ordinary of us all, lived with a luminous Presence in the everyday, and showed us what life looks like in the light of Love.
And I love to think that as he turned his face to shine upon us, in person, with such divine attention, the ‘God of God’ and ‘Light of Light’ beheld what we so often miss of ourselves - the ‘me of me’, the ‘you of you’, the more of who we were created to be. We were gifted, after all, with a holiness from back in the beginning, when God saw that we were good.
That we struggle to see it in ourselves, and thus each other, doesn’t mean that God’s glory isn’t there, within us and around us and shared between us, because we are His. And because we are His, we can surely practice seeing life differently, even and perhaps especially in the midst of our most mundane or difficult days. ‘When we bless the ordinary with the gift of our full attention,’ says the author Mirabai Starr, ‘it brims over with holy light.’
* * *
Perhaps you can pause for long enough to see the ordinary, today, in a whole new light - from the face of a child who lights up a room, to the shop assistant quietly radiating goodness, to the brilliance of rain-drops hanging from the branches of a bare winter tree, lit like stars by the sun. Your soul might even catch some rays of apricity.
Recently, I’ve been listening to a favourite old song by the Northern Irish singer Foy Vance. ‘When I need to get home,’ he sings, ‘You are my guiding light.’
I realised that it doesn’t matter so much for me whether he’s singing about a friend or God, when the light of the Creator’s love shines through us, in a community such as this. For even as we look for God to guide us home, this Advent, we start to see it all around: how the Life-Light loves to come home in us.
* * *
May we brim with holy light!
* Remember, today, to pay full attention to the ordinary around you, with love.
* Have a listen to Foy Vance's song 'Guiding Light' here, and reflect on anyone who has been a guiding light for you. You might even like to send them a text of thanks, out of the blue! (This version of the song is with special guests Ed Sheeran and Elton John!).
Golden Hour Moment
* Step outside at dawn or dusk to notice the light. You might enjoy watching for the last star of the morning, or the first star of the evening, and give the light your full attention.
'Live at Five' TODAY on YouTube
I'm leading the first of our Advent 'Live at Five' sessions on my YouTube channel herefrom 5pm-5.30pm GMT. Do join me for 30 mins to pause for soulful reflection and to share in the moment together!
Advent Compass Prayer
See if you can find a rhythm by using the Advent Compass Prayer each day. You can listen to (or read) the Advent Compass Prayer here.
OK, here is the first RSVP challenge to work on over the next few days! I'd like to invite you to create one visual image - a sketch, a photo, a selfie, a montage, a picture of your journalling, whatever you'd like it to be - which reflects something that resonates with you from any of the reflections up to and including next Tuesday. You're welcome to provide one line of explanation!
Please DON'T send me anything until next Wednesday! But DO start thinking, crafting or creating as soon as you'd like, and give this project your loving attention. I can't wait to see them next week!
1 // He Came With Love
'Even so, come Lord.' Rev 22.20
* * *
And here we are, gathered, once more! Welcome to Advent 2023. Before you continue, relax your shoulders, smile, take some slower breaths - and why not whisper the Aramaic word (and Advent refrain) Maranatha, 'Come, Lord.'
Slowly breathe in "Ma", breathe out "ra", breathe in "na", and breathe out "tha". Repeat, and take as long as you need.
* * *
As I reflected on the theme for this series, with so much going on in the world again (especially in the Middle East, a theatre not just of war but of our Advent drama too, of course), a poem-prayer began to emerge. Sometimes a prayer is all we can offer, in the face of tragedy, or beauty, or so often both. I offer it humbly!
In the Midst
Amid so much uncertainty,
yet so many all-too-certain voices
in the juggle of distractions,
and the struggle of addictions;
in the to-do lists, the to-be
or not-to-be social-media dramas -
the unfollows and all the hits;
in touches of tenderness,
in thanks for what just is,
and soul-deep longings for
what might yet be, stirring, crying
like a voice in the wilderness;
in the hopes and fears
of all the years -
where fear has won and hope is missed:
be born, O Advent's Inmost Dweller,
here, again, within our midst.
* * *
Well, that’s my prayer as we keep watch together for the flame of God’s presence kindling in our darkness; a life-light flickering on the far horizon of the human heart. A vigil flame drawing closer, and carried, of all people, by a child.
What a season of wonder awaits! And when all our words fail us, we are gifted the sheer poetry of Immanuel, the Word made flesh, who chooses not just to dwell with us, but within us, as he first did in Mary, at the start of his journey here.
Advent’s Inmost Dweller.
* * *
I'm sure you'll be in the midst of all sorts of stuff, at the start of your journey this Advent - and it may feel like an unholy huddle of things to do and places to be. I sometimes wonder how it was for Jesus when a crowd pressed in around him, jostling for attention and recognition.
He made space, of course, for God, by withdrawing in silence and solitude, but always to re-enter the fray with Love for the unloved people and places and moments that he came to meet.
Imagine if we approached these next few weeks as God, in Jesus, approaches us.
* * *
You may, or may not, feel ready for the season. We seem to arrive back here quicker each year, and there's always so much to do.
But how can we ever be fully ready for such a mystery as Advent, anyway? After all, God did not wait for humanity to be 'ready' before coming. That's part of the wonder, the mercy. As Madeleine L'Engle puts it so gorgeously in her poem 'First Coming':
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
* * *
Here we are, then, ready or not! And I, for one, cannot wait.
May we meet this Advent moment, as God meets us, within it all.
PS: If ever an e-mail doesn't arrive, let me know and I'll re-send personally. Group ones sometimes get blocked.
PPS: It's not too late for friends or colleagues to sign up!
A Few Advent Extras (if you have time!)
1. Advent Compass Prayer - 5-minute Audio Resource
I've created a new compass prayer audio resource for Advent 2023, drawing from lines and phrases of scripture to use each morning, if you'd like. It takes just five minutes, and I've found it creates a really helpful rhythm at the start of my day. You can take it anywhere if you play it through your phone and headphones, of course.
You can listen to (or read) the Advent Compass Prayer here.
2. A Golden Hour Moment
If you'd like to be intentional about stepping outside, or simply pausing by a window, for a few moments either in the morning or afternoon or both during Advent - to help break up 'business as usual' and create a rhythm of small acts of spiritual resistance! - then I'll suggest something most days.
I'm inspired by photographers who say that the time just after sunrise and just before sunset is the best for natural light, when daylight is softer and redder than when the sun is higher. I love to think of us basking in that kind of life-light, even as we seek the softening life-light of God.
For today, for simplicity's sake, let's start off by using the Compass Point Prayer. If you can get outside, do - otherwise, try to stand by a window and look out, as you listen and pray.
3. Advent Calendar Template - a Creative Project!
I was prompted, by Jenna R, to seek out an Advent calendar 'template' which you can fill in very succinctly yourself, if you're busy (or indeed if you're not!), as one creative way to journal the Advent journey.
It's a great idea, and on this lovely website of resources by Sybil MacBeth called Praying in Color, there's a host of Advent templates you could use. I've chosen this one for myself, to colour in, and record a phrase in, day by day. (You might even like to create your own template, instead.)
4. 'Live at Five' Tomorrow on YouTube
Just to give you advanced notice that tomorrow I'll be leading the first of our Advent 'Live at Five' sessions on my YouTube channel here from 5pm-5.30pm GMT. If you can join us in the moment, wonderful - you can contribute to the live chat, and share the live experience! If not, you can always watch later, as many people do.