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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

06 December 2019

Malcolm Guite has a recurring fantasy during Advent

ABOUT this time of year, amid all the stresses of the season, I find myself indulging in a recurring fantasy: I imagine the approach of December, and Advent itself, as a time of rich quietude, untrammelled leisure, and mellow contemplation. I imagine low lights, quiet streets, almost deserted shops, and time spent simply and inexpensively at home with one’s family.

I imagine harassed parents saying to one another, as December approaches, bringing Advent with it, “Oh, I’m so glad we’ve got to this time of year again! It’s such a relief to know we’ll have a complete break from the rush and bustle, no extra events in the school calendar, a chance for the kids to calm down a little before the big feast, and some space and time for us to be still as well.”

“Yes,” one would reply; “and it’s so nice that all the firms have agreed not to advertise anything during Advent, not to keep urging us to spend, spend, spend. And it’s lovely, too, the way the shops spread those simple curtains over the displays they’re working on, so one’s eyes are not distracted or tired by constantly flashing lights.”

“Yes,” says the other. “Four wonderful weeks of calm and simplicity, and then, of course, we can really enjoy the dazzling contrast, when it all changes so suddenly and dramatically on Christmas Eve! When the curtains are drawn back and the shops reveal their beautiful displays, and all the Christmas lights are lit. Then it really is Christmas; then we decorate the tree and we can delight in the lights and the glory and the presents and parties — all of it just for those special 12 days.”

“Yes, and 12 days is just about right. I enjoy it well enough, but I’m not sure I could take much more than that.”

“You’re so right, I know that, in the bad old days, when the shops were in charge, it used to go on for ages and pall on people terribly.”

“So it did. Well, enjoy your quiet Advent this December.”

It is usually at about this point in the fantasy that my reverie is interrupted by some loud commercial announcement, some tinny Christmas music in a shop, blared out before Advent has even begun, and I’m back to reality

But, maybe, things are changing. I sense a reaction coming. I sense a yearning for Advent again, for the fast before the feast. And I know that growing numbers of people have found ways of setting time aside to prepare for His coming, to yearn again for His light, to remember who He is and what He brings.

I once reflected that I’d like CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, to be CAMRE, a Campaign for Real Evangelism (Poet’s Corner, 2 February 2018). But it now occurs to me that, if CAMRA was a Campaign for Real Advent as well as for real ale, then one might enjoy another happy parallel. One might start a Christmas brew fermenting on the First Sunday of Advent, bubbling away in a dark cupboard and quietly strengthening, and, at the same time, one might begin a little spiritual ferment: a deepening of faith, a sweetening of hope, a strengthening of love, all kept out of sight, all working from within, until, when Christmas itself arrived, the ale and the alleluias would both be ready to be uncorked and shared together.

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