The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe.  Look he said.
The son looked.  Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour.  The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
               On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky.  many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs.  The son watched
Them.  Let me go there, he said

And so we begin Advent. Carys Walsh, in her meditation on the poem says that it “marks both the ending and the beginning of the journey before us, it leads us to the scandal of the crucifixion, but also heralds the coming of Christ into our troubled world … “(p.4).

We are invited to see through God’s eyes. The language evokes images of a broken and troubled world. I can’t see the word “serpent” here without thinking of the exile from Eden – and the world God shows the Son is one so very far from Eden. Carys draws the reference and reminds us that “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Cor 15:22)

To me it evokes a sense of a world whose potential has gone wrong, what could and should have been for good, has gone bad. Radiance is good, but slime is not. Light is good, but this light burns. There is a dystopic feel to this landscape. The image of the people raising their arms to the sky like so many branches is a stark one. It is as though they are gathered on the hill awaiting the end times. They are waiting for a spring that has ‘vanished’ and may never come. They wait, as we wait. What we wait for is incohate, but speaks of a sense of optimism which in this world seems unwarranted. The question arises of how can this dystopia be put right? How can the longings of these people be met?

The answer is echoed in Samuel’s cry – “I will go”. Thrice the boy responds to what he has supposed is the voice of his master, Eli before the truth is revealed – it is the Lord God of Israel who calls him – and he responds. It also echoes some words of my favourite Welsh poet, George Herbert in the third of his poems entitled Love. The subject of the poem knows he is a sinner and unworthy, but the love of God, that love which sacrificed to save us all, bids him welcome – he, God, has paid the price. So it is here too. Unbidden, Love decides to pitch his tent among us, in that scorched landscape, though the cost is already clear. As Carys Walsh puts it so beautifully:

Here is the intensity of love and the unimaginable compassion of God who pours himself out for our sakes and inhabits the scorched land and crusted buildings … who responds to both our needs and our rejection with equal love

There is here more than a watching, more than an emotional compassion, there is a call to act. Looking, the Son sees deeply into our pain and knows our plight is hopeless. Without his love we would wait for ever and in vain, for we can in no wise save ourselves. In this is love – that he loved us first. In this is love, that knowing the cost, God pays it.

In the conclusion to her meditation, Carys Walsh asks us to reflect on those ‘hopes, fears, losses that would call out the love of God into our lives?’ (p.6) What is our own ‘vanished April’? As I reflect and pray during this period of waiting, I ask God to to let me watch with him and to know what it is he would have me do, and I pray that we all find this Advent a period where we can grow in love and faith.