Sunday, December 02, 2007


The arrival of Advent is always a special time for me, charged with many memories of new beginnings.

My first ever retreat when I was just eighteen took place this weekend forty four years ago. A moment of wonder and mystery that set me on my journey towards ministry.

I started work as Team Rector of the St Paul's Area in Bristol, my first incumbency aged thirty, on Advent Sunday 1975.

I started work as Chaplain of Holy Trinity Geneva , after travelling to Switzerland overland alone two days beforehand, aged forty seven, on Advent Sunday 1992.

At that time it was no more expensive to go by train than to fly. I booked to travel via Paris and take the TGV for the second leg from Gare de Lyon to Genève, just to have a first experience of the legendary train. However, storms delayed the ferry crossing and the last TGV to Geneva had left long before I got to Gare de Lyon, so I had a wonderful sleepless night on an ordinary train, absorbing the sights and sounds of a ralway by night, arriving just as dawn was breaking. An unforgettable way to make a new start.

Memories and emotions connected of all these experiences have flitted through my mind today, though the emotion isn't nostalgia. It's the sense of new beginnings, horizons opening afresh, adventures and stories unfolding anew. Advent Sunday is usually like this for me, although not New Year, which is too much associated with post-festive exhaustion and depression.

Although Advent is a season to think about divine judgement, and this is associated commonly with dread and foreboding, there is an alternative angle. The divine judge looks at all that is good or ill , all that is wholesome or broken about our human endeavour, not only as the judge, but as the healer, who looks at the mess as a diagnostician assessing the situation and saying : "Hmm, let's see ... I can fix this this."

Well, that's one way to read that marvellous saying of Jesus : Behold, I make all things new." We look honestly at the way things are, and trust that by letting God come, not keeping him out of our affairs, there can and will be transformation, rather than loss or annihilation. This is what makes Advent for me a special season of renewal in my journey of faith.

It means that the run-up to Christmas, although always an endurance test, is still an enjoyable time, looking forward inwardly to all the heart desires most, with God, all in all.

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