Although from Gaudete Sunday onwards we may start liturgically to direct our gaze a little more towards the first coming of Christ, the Advent backdrop never quite goes away. Thus I wonder whether at the very end of Advent, on Christmas Eve, there is a theme easily lost in the rush to mount the 6.30 Carol service and make sure the charcoal’s not damp for the Midnight.
There’s little reason to doubt that this Advent will end just as uneventfully as all the others, and the nearest we will get to the stars falling from the sky will be when local revellers dismantle the Corporation Christmas Tree. Advent is a journey never completed: instead of the logical resolution of the Season — the final in-breaking of the Kingdom — we find ourselves back at the beginning once more. Rather like a child whose pile of unwrapped presents never quite matches the excitement of the mysterious parcels, we find ourselves happy enough that Christmas Day is here, yet aware that it’s not really where the story should have gone. We get a glimpse of what is to come only through hearing of the end of someone else’s wait.
Camus’s essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ seems to me to suggest that although Sisyphus’s task never ends, he is nonetheless happy. He has almost reached journey’s end — and that is enough. A glimpse of what might be has been given him as he nears the top of the mountain. This is perhaps a paradigm of Advent, and particularly of Christmas Eve.
It’s long been ‘correct’ to identify the Easter Dawn Eucharist as the Solemnity of Solemnities, the ne plus ultra of Christian rejoicing this side of the Kingdom. Perhaps Christmas Eve should be styled the Vigil of Vigils, where the waiting is never quite over, but briefly we peer into that other country before we are sent back to the beginning to begin the journey once more. And like Sisyphus, we find that it is enough.
David Rowett (‘mynsterpreost’) is parish priest at Barton-upon-Humber in the Diocese of Lincoln.