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By Reverend Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator, Diocese of Westminster

Two years ago, I had the real privilege of working alongside our friends at Pray-As-You-Go, helping to devise a resource which became known as Imagining the Nativity. This was a series of imaginative contemplations to help families journey alongside the Holy Family in prayer for Advent. Life never remains static and none of us can be the same person we were two years ago. One of the beauties of imaginative contemplation is that we always re-enter the scene as we are at this moment in time. It is a reminder that we encounter the living God in the circumstances of our lived existence, which is forever changing. We are not mannequins on an unchanging depiction of the nativity: each Advent we are invited to set out anew on that journey that brings us to the manger.

This year that journey is already very different due to the impact of the pandemic on our lives, and above all on our set expectations of life. This Advent, all the familiar signposts of the landscape have become blurred and unreal. It is, to some extent, like travelling through an ongoing 'House of Mirrors' at a fairground, where the images are distorted, creating confusing reflections of ourselves, which are at once both humorous and disconcerting. Whether we are single, married or a family, our vision of the world has been changed, and yet, within that landscape, it is our faith that continues to act as the compass.

As we travel along the road of our Advent journeys this year, we will bring with us the baggage train of our experiences: joy, sorrow, peace, anxiety, worry and loss. Being aware of how we feel makes us both vulnerable and open to change. How might Mary and Joseph have felt as they stepped out on the road to Bethlehem? What would we want to share with them at the campfire about our experience of the pandemic, of our hopes and fears for the future? Importantly, what might they share with us?

Just as we have moved from what was a safe, routine, and familiar setting, out into a landscape that is now very different and continually changing, so too was it for Mary and Joseph. Reflect, for a moment, on just how life was changed for Mary and Joseph through their ‘yes’ to God. They had to let go of what felt safe, to be caught up in the mystery of God. It requires courage to take that first step out onto the highway and thereafter to discern the way ahead by reading the signs and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. What has our path to the crib been like this year?

How often do we forget that Mary was heavily pregnant and the journey to Bethlehem difficult and wearing? What anxieties did Mary feel, with the prospect of giving birth far from home and all that was familiar? Perhaps she yearned to have her mother at her side to support her through childbirth, an experience all too familiar this year, as many women have had to give birth without the support of a loved one. Joseph, too, set aside a comfortable life to respond to what was being asked of him. Both entered a new, disturbing, and transformative landscape. This Advent we may find ourselves in a similar situation, where what we took for granted seems lost, where familiar activities are closed off and where uncertainty seems to prevail.

Stop for a moment and chat with Mary and Joseph about their situation and yours. What we can learn is that despite the challenges and real uncertainties both placed their trust in the hand of God. At the end of their journey there was to be no comfortable hotel room and helpful staff. That must have been truly disheartening and exhausting. Many this year will face the real threat of losing their homes and livelihoods. They are the Marys and Josephs of our age and all have a call on our support.

In their moment of need God touched the innkeeper’s heart and what was required became available. In this time of uncertainty, is God touching our hearts to reach out and help someone else?

Image shows a home crib with Columbian figures, laid out as a star path along which Mary and Joseph travel.