Friday, December 2, 2016

Second Week of Advent Reflection

by Doug Tilton
Each year, when the spring rains fall, the Namaqua desert in South Africa's Northern Cape becomes a blaze of colour. Wild flowers, coaxed back to life by the moisture, create intricate tapestries of purple, orange, yellow.  Over a period of just a few weeks, this brilliant display sweeps from north to south and then evaporates until the following year.

Desert photo by Winfried Bruenken
Though regular, the event is also unpredictable. It is dependent on the rains, which have become increasingly erratic due to climate change. (South Africa has just experienced its driest year since records started 112 years ago!) The viewing opportunity only lasts a few days, and not knowing which days certainly inhibits planning.

This is my excuse for never witnessing the spectacle, despite having lived in the Cape for over a decade! Every year, I think: "This year, for sure." But then I am caught unaware. The agenda is full; I am travelling. It just isn't convenient to go. "Next year," I repine.

Often I feel the same way about Advent. A child of the northern hemisphere, I struggle to cultivate a preparatory posture in the middle of summer. The Christmas decorations that begin to appear in early October seem more like harbingers of some lame "Christmas in July" party than real reminders of the approaching celebration of Christ's birth. Even the lighting of the Advent candles each Sunday seems a bit surreal and out of place. So it is usually only a few days before Christmas that the imminence of the holiday suddenly seizes my consciousness. There is little of the anticipation, the reflection, the preparation that I remember from my childhood. No Advent calendars, no frosty caroling outings, no ritualistic decorating.

How often does Christ catch us unaware and unprepared? How often do we think: "Next year, for sure"? How might we incorporate constant anticipation of God's promise of renewal into our spiritual discipline? The good news is that, like the flowering desert, God's grace always gives us another chance.

Doug Tilton is Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker who has been based in South Africa since 1992. He currently serves as regional liaison for Southern Africa, helping to strengthen the mutual ministries of the PC(USA) and its partner churches in Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Desert photo by Winfried Bruenken

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