It can be tempting to think of Advent as a cosy time, drawn close around the fire while we warm up the engines of Christmas. But for me at any rate this year it seems to be something far less romantic: a time of stripping back, clearing the tangled thorns around the heart – brambles of memory, the climbing briars of faithlessness. But we cannot reach, and the thorns tear the skin of our reaching hands.
Advent is a time of stillness, of waiting, they say. But for what? For what we cannot do for ourselves – Eustace the dragon, helpless within his scales.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Romans 8:26-27 NRSV)
Our waiting is for God’s grace alone. There is nothing we can do except wait, and pray that silence may itself bring us only to some kind of holy longing, to the psalmist’s words at the end of his hymn to the Word:
I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
(Psalm 119:176 NIV)