Advent Reflections: Reading the Signs

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… 

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

(Isaiah 9:2, Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 2:11) 

The readings during Advent and especially those used in carol services are full of pointers and signs, telling us that amazing things are about to happen, all will be transformed, good times are coming. Advent is a time of preparing for and looking forward to both the celebration of Jesus – the messiah’s- birth, and the coming of the end of times, of the last day. The former has a certainty about it, an event, ie Christmas, whose shape can know and predict: its predictability firmly cemented by tradition. The latter, whilst it is something we are pretty sure will happen, we have no idea when or how it will be, nor are we even sure that we will recognise it if when we see it.

If we reflect a little more – especially after the uncertainty that covid created last year – we may also realise that even the shape of Christmas is not a certainty. Each year we may find that our reaction to the festivities, however familiar, is unpredictable; and that our experience of encountering Jesus as God incarnate is equally uncertain. 

The Christian life can be understood as a journey but where that route goes or to what destination it brings us is not clear. This  equally applies to our everyday lives. We may have a plan : school and perhaps university, then a job; marriage, a house, and a family; retirement, a pension and grandchildren – but we know that these are not certain it’s and, in our current physical and political world, have even less certain than they were in the past. 

Thinking of Advent as a season of signs, we might see those signs not as destination boards that confirm where we will end up, nor as a timetable. Rather we might see them as way markers that confirm that we are on the right path. So even if we can’t see our final destination, if we can’t see what’s over the hill or around the  next corner, at least we can be certain that we are on the right road.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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