It is difficult to name the overriding theme of the Retreat. Probably what best describes it is WAITING IN ADVENT: waiting patiently as did our forefathers and foremothers.
For me one of the greatest insights I received was when Father Tom identified two distinct strands in the Old Testament’s understanding of God, one, harsh and punitive, the other a God of love and compassion. I had not known of these distinctions before.
Elijah seemed, on the whole, to portray God as harsh and exacting, (though he did, recognise Him in the gentle breeze). This seems to be the tradition in which John the Baptist understood the nature of God, a God who threatened that the Messiah would punish severely those who deviate from the Law.
Isaiah and Hosea, on the other hand, spoke of a God of compassion, a God who forgives, a God who would send a saviour to bind up wounds, to nourish and cherish the vulnerable and weak. In the Messianic Era the wolf and lamb would live together, wars would cease, and powerful images of affection such as ‘precious’, ‘loved’, ‘leading with the reins of kindness’ are used.
It was in this understanding of God that Jesus found Himself and in which He exercised his ministry.
And it is this Saviour who tells us today: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock... ’
In this tradition were found people of faith, – people waiting in hope. Among these were our Advent foremothers – Hannah, mother of Samuel, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and Mary, Mother of Jesus.
- Hannah’s time of waiting is long and painful. She is Advent’s foremother in her anguish. With her we wait and listen when things seem unbearable.
- Elizabeth is quiet and reflective in her waiting. As an Advent foremother she teaches us receptivity, trust.
- In contrast to Hannah and Elizabeth, Mary’s pregnancy is not an answer to prayer, the lifting of the shame of barrenness, but a “yes” to God’s intervention which may bring shame and misunderstanding. We learn from Mary that God is encountered in faith, trusting ‘the Promise, trusting that He keeps His word.