As we enter this Fourth week of Advent I share with you some thoughts that are based on an idea given to me by the Rector of Wells - The Reverend Philip Thomas.
In these last few days of preparation for the approaching Nativity of our Saviour things take longer to accomplish. A simple five minute walk onto The Rock for shopping seems to take an age. This could simply be because there are more people out and about running hither and yon, in and out of the crowded shops in a last effort to buy a gift for that special someone in their lives.
Going about the town at this time of year as a priest seems to take longer as well as people stop me to tell me about someone who has gone into hospital or needs a visit at home or sadly to tell me someone has died. There are also others who kindly remind me 'that I am coming to my busy time.' A priest friend of mine says that he never does any visiting in the month of December but simply walks round the aisles of the supermarkets and there he gets to know all that he needs to know about the parish.
These meetings in the crowded market squares of our town at this time of year are simply chance meetings. We did not know that Mrs O'Bubblegum was going to be out shopping at the same time as us and wanted to share some news with us. It is by chance that we meet these people.
Today's Gospel speaks of another meeting between Our Lady and her cousin Elizabeth. This was not a chance meeting. It was planned. We could say planned by God. We are told the on hearing the news that Elizabeth was pregnant Mary went 'as quickly as she could.' It all sounds rather twee and quaint that a family member would go to offer what help she could to another in need. It is perhaps the stuff of fairy tales or the making of a nice scene on a Christmas card.
It is rather quaint and nice till be examine the facts a little more closely. Mary set out. Yes but at the time she too was heavily pregnant with Our Divine Saviour. There is no mention of Joseph so presumably this trip was made alone. Being a poor family most of the journey was made on foot as they couldn't afford any transport - usually a donkey. Yet despite this Mary still went to the aid of her kinswoman.
As we come to this final week of Advent we too are preparing for coming of Our Saviour. But we are not simply preparing for one day - 25th December and then it will all be over and we can get back to normal. We are preparing our hearts and minds for a meeting with the Lord at the end of time. We have already acknowledged and celebrated his birth in the flesh. Now we await his return in glory.
Will he find us ready or will our hearts and minds be so full of running in and out of shops for Christmas gifts that will be 25% cheaper in the sales on Boxing Day? When the Lord comes will be find us 'watching in prayer and our hearts exultant in praise' as the liturgy of the Church prayers at this time.
We are not preparing for one day. We are preparing for the Lord's return at the end of time and none of us knows when that will be. We priests were taken aback to hear the sad news of the death of Fr Anthony Sudlow on Thursday morning. He went to bed on Wednesday night and didn't live to see another day - the Lord came to call him home. Will we be ready when the Lord may call us to be with Himself. It could be in 10, 20, 30 0r more years or it could be this evening as you settle down to watch Coronation Street or some other TV Programme. Will we be ready?
As St Paul tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures - With such thoughts as these let us comfort one another.