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“Beginnings And Endings [and what happens in between]”: Maggi Dawn

Advent 001


Advent marks the beginning of the Church year and a time of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Christ into the world. It marks the beginning of the Christian era in the birth of Christ, and it looks further back to ancient roots in the lives of the patriarchs, in the earliest human stories of Adam and Eve, and into the timeless eternity of our beginnings in God. So there is an obvious connection between Advent and beginnings.

Advent is also about endings, though, because it anticipates the second coming of Christ. In Christian belief, this idea symbolises the end of the present era and the fulfilment of the kingdom of God. It’s a clearly held hope within the Christian faith, yet at the same time, like all future hopes, it is shrouded in mystery because precisely what the hope means in reality is as yet hidden from us. Here, too, the Bible tantalises us with promises that cannot be fully understood.

The biblical accounts of beginnings and endings are incomplete, and don’t give us the crystal clarity of factual evidence that we would sometimes like the Bible to deliver. But this does not indicate that they have no meaning for us. Even science and rational thought, in which we invest so much trust, cannot give us a full account of our beginnings, and the prediction of the end is even more a matter of conjecture and likelihood. The Bible is neither a scientific manual, nor a magical book of fortune-telling. It does not aim to explain science or to predict the future; rather, it give us stories, histories, songs, experience and spiritual meditations to aid us as we make sense of the lives we live and the world we inhabit.

The biblical accounts of beginnings and endings tell us that the Christian faith is a journey that starts somewhere and goes somewhere. It’s a journey that develops through time, rather than simply going round and round in an endlessly repeating cycle. The season of Advent, too, reminds us that we come from somewhere and we are going somewhere, and thinking about beginnings and endings helps us to rediscover meaning and purpose as we live in these times that are ‘in between’.

There have been periods in history when the Christian hope of a second coming and an afterlife has been used to mollify people instead of addressing issues of justice, or even to frighten Christians into submission. It is healthier to understand our faith as an anchor to the present and a way of discovering the possibility of living in freedom and enjoying depth and abundance in our life now. We do not live in the past and neither do we want to hasten our own end.

The opening section of this book deals with ‘beginnings’, looking at how the Gospel writers and the writers of the Genesis accounts reveal their ideas about where our story begins. The following sections touch on each of the themes symbolised by the candles of an Advent wreath—the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Each of these themes marks a stage, a new beginning, in the story of salvation, and each of these looks toward the ending in a fresh way.

In between, we shall pause to consider ‘angels and announcements’. The nativity stories are renowned for the appearance of angels announcing new beginnings. This section connects these up with some older stories about angels and offers  some meditations on how we hear God’s voice and how we respond to the call to new beginnings in our own lives.

The holy family themselves become the focus of our readings in the first week of Christmas. As we look back on their story, we see how it dramatically marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. Yet, as they themselves lived through it, it was as much a time in-between as our  lives  are now. This family has much to teach us about the meeting of heaven and earth, the extraordinary and the ordinary, within everyday life.

Finally we will look at endings in the Bible, although (and I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler!) we shall discover that as the Christian faith is built on the hope of resurrection, endings are always new beginnings.

I invite you to join me in this meditation on Beginnings and Endings this Advent. It has been a real  pleasure to write on a theme that seems to open up new depths every year, and I hope that you will enjoy these meditations as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I wish you a happy Advent.

Yes I know. Tomorrow is the second Sunday before Advent. But I wanted to put this up in plenty of time to allow you to take the first step in accepting  this invitation from the Revd Maggi Dawn, that is to say buying her book. If you think the paper version may not reach you in time, there is also a PDF which you can download. Pam Webster is hosting an online Advent book club to discuss ‘Beginnings and Endings’. Sara Batts, one of my fellow judges at #cnmac13, is joining in, as is the Revd Claire Maxim. And I hope readers of Lay Anglicana will also want to contribute. There is a Facebook page, which Pam has just started. See you there?

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