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Life Chez Dee Episode #72: Advent, then and now

I signed up to take part in an Advent Course this year. I’ve never signed up for a church course before, and something about this just caught my fancy. I’m generally a thinker and like to discuss topics, and think, and think some more, and pour out my thoughts both in the discussion and on paper, and this was no exception.

I knew several of those who were also on this course from church, as well as one or two new faces, including the Deacon leading it. The course was reflecting on advent, the nativity, and how our experiences of 2020 link and connect with the nativity, how we can empathise with each of the characters and bring a fresh insight and understanding of how we see this in our lives today.

We agreed confidentiality in the group, and what is said there, stays there, which is why in this piece of writing there will only be my personal outpourings.

We had to get some materials ready to begin with, as we were gradually (over the next few weeks) building our nativity scene. A stable was needed for this week, a mask and a pen and paper. This was my first obstacle. Our nativity set was buried amongst all the Christmas decorations which we stash in the loft from year to year. It’s always a messy job going in the loft, and the dust and debris falls out onto the landing, the minute that loft hatch is opened. Justin was in the loft this weekend doing various jobs, and I seized the opportunity to get him to poke around for the nativity set up there.

Then I faced my next obstacle … my nativity doesn’t have a stable … I’m not sure it ever did as I recall; nor does it have shepherds … or angels. In fact it really is quite a pitiful nativity set and I really need to make an effort to find another and replace it. Anyway, my first dilemma this evening, before the course started was to find something suitable to use for the stable, without asking Justin to knock one up for me out of some wood scraps in the garage. Sitting in the office, which is the small bedroom at the front of the house, I looked out of the window. Sitting on the windowsill, which is actually where I thought I’d set the nativity scene during this course, was a block of wood which had Edward’s initials on it, which I’d kept from when he branded them into it one night at cubs. It was the right size to form a wooden backdrop to my nativity, and to me it seemed very appropriate.

Edward is always in my thoughts this time of year, and even though every day of the year is never without Edward, this time of year is particularly hard for me. It seemed so right that Edward was a part of this scene. Mary’s child was born in that stable, and I thought about the connection I felt with Mary in that her child was so cruelly taken from her. I felt as though the story and the trauma Mary must have felt in losing her child, connected with me in that way too.

The session included readings, prayers and music, alongside the discussions. Our piece of paper which we were to put into our nativity scene was to represent the census. Again my thoughts go to Edward, and that when our next UK census is due to take place next year, he won’t be included on it, and that brings another wave of sadness to my thoughts.

On this sheet of paper we’ve been asked to write the names of our prime minister and politicians, to pray and ask for God’s grace on them. I do pray that they will make wise decisions as the impact for so many as a result of the pandemic, and the decisions made by government are already having consequences.

We talked about the year we’ve had through the pandemic, lockdown one and lockdown two, and the hardships people felt, and tried to imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt in being told by the authorities what to do, to travel a long distance to their hometown and be unable to see their families, Joseph being unable to work and earn any money, Roman soldiers implementing the rules of Emperor Augustus in making sure that all returned to their home towns. Travelling on a long journey by donkey can’t have been very easy, not knowing where they were going, or where they would stay, probably not even being able to afford this either, and for Joseph to make this journey with a heavily pregnant wife, who was carrying another’s child, I can only imagine the many strong emotions he must have been feeling. Much of this story resonates today in how we are told to behave, the loss of connection with families, loss of income many face, and rules and restrictions in place with the laws upheld by our police. I thought about the support Joseph gave Mary, and how women today are supported by their partners when giving birth, yet during this pandemic were having to face this alone, with their partners prevented from being with them.

We were asked to reflect on what a Christian response to what we have been asked to do all through this pandemic and lockdown would be. One of looking at the greater picture, doing the right thing, helping the many and not just ourselves, maybe even needing to suffer ourselves. We would offer prayers, and help and support, emotionally, practically, spiritually and even financially.

My thoughts were provoked when I read some of the course material which suggested that it was difficult to get people to comply with lockdown, and the implication that freshers week parties were an example of this. It caught my eye and I thought about how much bad press the youngsters were getting about spreading the disease, and that a handful of badly behaved people does not equal everyone. The generalisations throughout this pandemic have been appalling to be honest, and have really got my back up. So many statements seem to have been generalisations about how people are feeling, and what they have experienced, when this is simply not the case. Everyone’s experience of the pandemic, and lockdown has been different, some positive, some negative, and some both.

I thought about our discussion of how frightened many people are; that they have a real fear of the pandemic … quite justified in my opinion, particularly if they have underlying health conditions. Should we believe, as Christians, that God would be with us all the time, to fear not, as he would help, guide and support us at all times. I thought about how yes I did sometimes believe this, and yet so often this conflicts with how I feel. To be honest my gut reaction to this is that you do have to help yourselves too, but I also feel that nothing I face from now on will be anywhere near as bad as what I have already faced in life, and in a way that puts a very different perspective on life for me.

I still have so many questions for God, and hopefully one day I will have all these answered, but I feel confused, I feel angry, and so often feel very alone, and left with no explanation as to why my son died, and why he was taken from me at such a very young age. It feels painful; it feels cruel.

I know that Mary must have also asked these questions, I know that deep down she wanted to trust God, but how frightening that visit from the angel must have been, and then told that she was pregnant and how she must break this news to Joseph, and then in later life, even though her son was now a grown man, he was still her child, and she had to face watching him die, in a way which was both cruel and traumatic, and I feel every bit of that pain she undoubtedly felt. How proud she must have been of her son, who he was, and what he did … and not that I am in any way comparing my son with hers, I have always thought that Edward had another job to do, that he is with God helping him with some mission. Edward was a doer, a go getter, just getting on with stuff, no messing about. I don’t particularly care if this either offends or subjects me to ridicule … it is the belief I have, and one which I find helps me to find comfort in the fact that Edward is no longer here physically, and yet so very present in spirit; that I’m very proud of who he was, and is; and that he is happy, busy and has purpose; that it was all part of God’s plan.

I think about how at the beginning of the pandemic I actually thought that the government had our best interests at heart, and yet now I’m not so sure. The government seem to have their own agenda, generally with money at the heart of it, with people treated as numbers and statistics rather than as human beings. I agree for the sake of so many, our economy needs to pick up, however, I feel that compassion is often lacking in decisions, and I feel as though I’m lacking in confidence and trust in our government and it’s agendas.

I wanted to begin to journal my thoughts on this journey through advent, at a time I always find difficult and challenging, in a year which has been very different.

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