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Advent lessons from a Springer

It seems to happen to me every year, but once again I find myself amazed that today marks the beginning of Advent; where did the year go? On these occasions I often wonder what gem of a reflection I can offer our wonderful RM network; a mind-bending theological concept? Perhaps a call to renewed missional vigour? Well sorry folks, none of that today, because as we begin Advent I simply want to focus on my dog.

You see we’re unashamedly dog people in our house. Not that we’re against cats, or any other domestic animal for that matter; we just like dogs best - ‘man’s best friend’ and all that. Ruth and my chosen breed over the years has been the Springer Spaniel; loyal, eager, always busy, outgoing and friendly, or to embrace the modern parlance ‘wired!’

So, what might the link to Advent be? Well, as I’ve reflected on the Springer’s busy nature I’ve noticed that’s how many of us handle the Advent season, with busyness. As I was browsing on-line for Advent resources recently I read, “Advent is that period of quiet reflection intended to prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ and the twelve-day feast of Christmas”. Of course, our culture subverts this pattern – frantically celebrating the feast throughout December and running out of steam by Boxing Day!’* Springer’s can often be so busy, head down, sniffing around, bouncing from distraction to distraction with a great smattering of FOMO (fear of missing out)! Is that how Advent looks for you?

So, how ought we to prepare, how can we live a different way in this season, what can a period of waiting and reflection during Advent look like for us? Back to the dogs, and my current Springer Lottie; she seems to buck the trend.

Firstly, she’s patient. If we’re out for a walk and we stop to chat to someone she simply sits quietly next to her master and waits. It was Hudson Taylor who said ‘there are three indispensable requirements for a missionary: 1. Patience 2. Patience 3. Patience”. Waiting can be tough sometimes, and waiting patiently can seem even harder. Psalm 27:14 simply encourages us to wait patiently for the Lord. How might we embrace that patience this Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming, and await His coming again?

Secondly, Lottie’s a hopeful dog. If I walk into the Kitchen where she often lies and give the faintest hint that I’m going outside, she’s always ready to join me. She hasn’t really got a clue what might be coming next (it could even be a trip to the vets!) but she trusts her master and always looks forward with hope. In Spanish the word for wait is ‘esperar’ which is also the root of the word ‘esperanza,’ which means hope. There’s a sense that as we wait we do so looking towards something better to come, a fulfilment or pay off. Waiting and hopefulness for the Christian seem inextricably linked. Psalm 130 pictures pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem and singing together ‘I am counting on the Lord… I have put my hope in His word’ (Psalm 130:5). So again I ask, how might we embrace that hopefulness this Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming and await His coming again?

Next, Lottie is a Joyful dog; she’s always pleased to see you, and when she’s out and about thoroughly enjoys life to the full. Maybe we ought to take time to seek out joy, to look for joy more intentionally. Joy is not just a luxury, it gives us strength (Nehemiah 8:10), creates the space to breathe and allows us to dream. Through the timeless Christmas account that’s what we see Jesus doing; bringing joy as He comes into our world, right in the midst of the chaos, the hatred and the disappointments of life, reminding us that God is always with us, He is Emmanuel.

Finally, Lottie is the most placid, chilled out Springer we’ve ever had around the house, she knows how to create space for herself, to remove herself from other distractions and that her waiting (be it for food, a walk or whatever) is not in vain. She knows how to find rest. So this Advent it’s my prayer that we might create the space to wait intentionally, wait well, and wait with a renewed sense of patience, hopefulness and joy.

Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England


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