When I was first diagnosed with cancer and told it had spread significantly, I shared a little private anguish with my old friend, Bro Duncan PBGV. I told him my plans had been scuppered and I felt somehow ‘cheated’. But he just looked at me with those wise old eyes of his, and something about them brought me to my senses. We are never cheated by life. Our plans are exactly that: an attempt, a desire, to achieve something in the future, nothing more. They have no separate or real existence apart from our dreams. We may be reluctant to admit it, but our desire to control the future is illusory. We step daily into the unknown. To a dog, the unknown is a place to be explored with enthusiasm and delight, whereas to human beings it can be a source of confusion and distress.
In Advent we step out into the unknown in a new way. We are being called to prepare a place for the Lord in our hearts and that means being prepared to be turned upside down and inside out. I say ‘prepared to be,’ because most of us are spared such dramatic twists and turns. The majority of us seem to get by with just a little rust being scraped off here and there. That can be painful, of course, but it is hardly earth-shattering. Throughout Advent we shall constantly be reminded that this journey into the unknown is not made alone:
the glory of the Lord
will be a canopy and a tent
to give shade by day from the heat,
refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain. (Is. 4.6)
As the Israelites discovered in the desert, and as those in Aleppo and Mosul know only too well today, the protection of the Lord does not mean that we shall be immune from sorrow and distress. God never promised us ease or material success or any of the things we tend to prize. He promised us something much better: a Saviour, and eternal life.
A prayer intention for today: let us pray for the people of Syria and Iraq and for the thousands of refugees and migrants living in refugee camps or temporary shelters, especially those vulnerable to bombing and military attacks.