Time for a Change
Time for a Change

Time for a Change

Fourth Sunday of Advent. Fr Robert Gay asks whether we are ready to welcome the disruption that Christ’s arrival bring.

I was recently reading part of the book ‘The Hallowing of Time’ by the English Dominican Fr Geoffrey Preston, particularly his reflections on the change of the liturgical year that happened a few weeks back. Fr Geoffrey comments on this as a moment where the Church ‘forces a change upon us’. This comment is not intended to be a criticism on his part – far from it. As someone who as a young man had made the decision to move from Methodism to the Catholic Church, we can see in his writings how he was fascinated by the way in which the liturgy made present the drama of salvation history, and in so doing, brought its saving effects to God’s people.

Fr Geoffrey saw the enforced change gifted to us by the Advent season as very much in keeping with the dynamic of the history of salvation as it is expressed in the liturgy. He writes: ‘We are not left undisturbed for long. We are always being asked to shift ourselves; always being prodded, pushed or pulled’. For Fr Geoffrey, the worst thing that God could do is to leave us alone. Instead, what we require is for God to be for us an Advent God, an ‘interfering God, a God who will not let us be; we must pray for ‘God not to let our lives run smoothly, not to let our old year run out quietly, but to come, to tear the heavens open if need be’.

These words come into their own in a very clear way when we look at the readings for this Sunday. They have in common talk of the coming of a child; or perhaps better, the coming of the child. We often look on the scene of the child in the manger as a scene of order and peace in a troubled world, and we are right to do so. Yet at the same time we know that the coming of any child into the world cannot leave things undisturbed. First of all, there is always the addition of a unique, irreplaceable human being into history. We know, though, that this addition of a child, from the moment of its conception, and in an even more dramatic way after birth, brings about a shift of focus on the part of the parents and family, and draws attention away from what was previously in the centre towards that child. Newborn children are the ultimate disrupters of lives, though obviously for the most part, this disruption is celebrated and valued for the joy that the child brings and the love that quickly grows towards this unique, irreplaceable human being.

Today’s Gospel starts us on the road to Bethlehem by recounting the beginning disruption to St Joseph’s life that comes through the angel of the Lord in a dream. Joseph from this moment has no need to borrow the words of Fr Geoffrey and ask that God might be a God who will not let him be; his life is disrupted and now focuses on this child. His concern to care for him and protect him will take him on a journey beyond his imagination, guided by grace, guided by his fidelity to this child. As we continue our journey through advent, we are aware that we are preparing for the coming of the child in the manger. It is part of our task of preparation that we come to see that the Christ child is worthy of our full and undivided attention. But is also part of that preparation to understand that this will necessarily change and disrupt our lives in ways that we might not expect. Will we welcome that disruption?

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14 | Romans 1:1-7 | Matthew 1:18-24

Image: picture of the Holy Family from a side altar in the Don Bosco church of the Sacred Heart in Rome, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.

Fr Robert Gay is Prior of the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, and he is also a lector in moral theology at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

Comments (1)

  • Deacon Chris

    Love this! As a father of 5 I can relate to the disruption a newborn can bring. Romantic breakfasts became a thing of the past until recently now the children are grown. But the disruption of the demands that Christ makes on us…to be holy, be perfect, be who we were meant to be before the “fall”…that’s the ultimate disruption. May we all embrace and be all we were meant to be.


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