It is almost with a sense of dread I approach the season of Advent as we begin another church year.
I was in town last Friday for lunch and as we sat about people watching in one of the shopping centres my heart sank at the thought of all the effort needed to be organised for Christmas.
Already you can see a visible increase in the crowds, the queues have lengthened already, strained faces lurk everywhere as people try to beat the rush.
The more I think about making arrangements the more I’m convinced the internet is the only way forward. It will save a lot of hassle especially if I can convince someone else to go on online for me, maybe my brother in El Salvador. After all his background is in computers and it would give him another excuse to sit in front of a scene and allow his hair and beard to grow even longer. The more I think about the image the more I see the irony of having long hair in a tropical climate where shampoo is difficult to get.
Now I have to be honest after my recent trip to Central America my main reason for not wanting to be hauled around town shopping is the thought of carrying bags. Let’s just say I had a few problems with bags and suitcases in airports on my recent travels.
Firstly we had to check in two extra pieces of baggage because of my friend’s larger size in clothes and the reality of binging much needed supplies out to my brother and I don’t mean shampoo.
The fun began in Newark Airport. It was my own fault, I was stupid enough to push the trolley stacked with three bags towering higher than me. With the effort of trying to push the luggage the sweat was running down my face creating the guilty looking appearance of a Derry man who had spent the weekend in Spain on a fag run.
Consequently I was duly redirected by one of the Customs officers who asked me was I carrying any medicines, foods or other items which needed declared before my entire luggage passed through the X-ray machine.
I was close to panic by this stage because the local doctor in El Salvador had asked us to bring out some medical supplies, no medicines but I was worried how I was going to explain the presence of 10 pregnancy test kits, especially after he asked me my occupation.
Hauled to one side
As I was hauled to one side my travelling companions disappeared into the arrival lounge and I felt very much alone, just me and a six foot tall customs official. Thankfully everything passed through without any issues, after being reasonably satisfied I was allowed to travel onwards.
I was only too glad to rush on and meet up with my non too concerned companions only to realise as I caught up with them I had left my small rucksack behind me next to the custom’s X-ray machine.
It didn’t help to hear the announcement in the background concerning unattended luggage and my heart sank at the realisation I might never see my passport, iPod or my spending money again.
What do you do in such circumstances? I hurried back to the doorway for customs. There I was abruptly stopped in my tracks as a custom’s woman told me how under no circumstances would I be allowed back through the door. I was sent packing with my trail between my legs after it had been explained and I had to go and inform one of the airline staff who then had to present their ID before they were allowed through to collect my hand luggage, whilst I was only allowed to stand in a waiting area 100 metres away. I should be thankful for small mercies; my hand luggage hadn’t been destroyed and I hadn’t been deported.
As Advent and the new church years begin we have to be conscious of the baggage in our lives which hinders us from hearing God’s approach. The readings this week concentrate on God’s coming at the end of time and the struggles of God’s people to remain faithful when faced with challenges.
Often in this life we are asked to patiently endure, it’s in this experience of powerlessness and vulnerability we discover what it truly means to be a follower of Christ.
The American Scripture scholar Scott Hahn writes, ‘... in this Advent season, we should see our own lives in the experience of Israel. As we examine our consciences, can’t we, too, find that we often harden our hearts, refuse His rule, wander from His ways, and withhold our love from Him?’
In light of this reflection the task is to pray for the strength to open our hearts and minds to God’s presence.
It is an opportunity to begin again and start afresh in our lives of discipleship, to be alert and awake to our heavenly Father who may come when we lease expect it. God promises to renew all things at the end of time, may he begin by renewing our commitment and hope, encouraging us to believe in Christ’s words which lead us to everlasting life.