We were very blessed to be in Rome in October and dropped in on an open-air gathering outside a rather big church. The minister seemed pretty popular as people had come from all over the world to see him, bringing balloons, banners and loads of enthusiasm to what appeared to be a pretty big party. We were rather bemused to see that when the speaker finally appeared, he was standing not on a platform but on the balcony of his apartment, whereupon everyone got very excited and cheered him while he happily waved back at them. Unfortunately, he spoke in Italian, which we couldn’t understand, and we’re sure lots of other people couldn’t either, but he went down a storm and a great time was had by all!
Of course, the speaker was Pope Francis, addressing the crowds in St Peter’s Square. The people were good humoured and respectful, but his words (which were available online in English later in the day) pointed attention to Jesus, not to himself, so it was a great privilege to be at a church which is so different from ours, and to feel part of the gathering of the nations there, in spite of the divisions and differing theologies which have so often forced us apart.
We will doubtless pick up this theme of unity between believers in the weeks ahead, but today, on this first Sunday in Advent, we want to think about the atmosphere at that event. We watched the people gathering, some in the usual dress of tourists in a major city, others in the full regalia of Christian organisations from South America to central Europe and from China to Australia. The voices we heard were similarly disparate, but everyone there was waiting expectantly for the same person, to see him in the flesh, to hear his message and to receive his blessing.
How much more marvellous is the anticipation we feel in these days of Advent, when once again we herald the arrival of the Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace. We remember again that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us, the Saviour of the World, who was born in humility and poverty so that we might know his riches and grace and be fully reconciled to God through his gift of love. Pope Francis urged us that morning to give to God the things that are God’s, and so let us give Jesus the honour and glory that are rightfully his in this joyful season, as we once again wait eagerly and expectantly for his coming and celebrate the miracle of his birth.
With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott