A message for Advent from Bishop Dorsey
Bishop Dorsey McConnell has sent a message for the season of Advent to everyone in the Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney, where he is Acting Bishop.
Recalling a childhood experience of repentance and his mother’s love, which he has carried in his heart throughout his life, Bishop Dorsey asks: “For the remaining days of Advent, can we learn to live as though we were indispensable to one another, and to help one another come without fear before the throne of grace? There is no better preparation for the coming feast of our Lord’s Incarnation, when we will receive Him once again into our hearts.”
The full letter appears below.
Beloved in the Lord,
As I began to write this last week, it was blowing a hooley in Aberdeen. Whenever this happens, I have learned the wind will find anywhere it can seep in — under the door, around the windows, through that missing button on my coat. Having lived in New England for much of my life, I am no stranger to cold weather, but the winter wind of northern Scotland has a piercing quality unlike anything I have ever known. It seems to go right through my flesh and straight into my bones.
Perhaps it is no wonder, as I rounded the corner at Gallowgate and Littlejohn Street that morning on my way to the office, and caught a full blast from the northwest, I immediately minded the verse from Hebrews concerning the Word of God, how it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the innermost thoughts and intentions of the heart. And, the letter goes on, Nothing is hidden from God, but all things are naked and laid open before the One with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13). I pulled my coat collar up closer. It had exactly no effect.
The Scriptures in the Daily Office for the season of Advent seem very much in the “hooley” category. Amos, 2 Peter, Jude, St Matthew — none of these contains a gentle suggestion that we might consider tidying up our lives a bit in time for Christmas. Rather they blow a fanfare of judgement, a clarion call to repentance. They make no concessions, offer no allowance, pierce like a winter gale to the joint of soul and spirit. Leave your excuses at the door, they say with one voice, give up your strategies, blame no one else: just sit and let the wind of the Holy Spirit reveal all the ways in which you need mercy.
The name of this wind is Love, nothing less than the Love of Christ.
At first, I find this hard to accept. I want very much to be well thought of by God. I want Christ to say, You know, you’re mainly all right, but you could use a tune-up here and there, and that’s why I’m here. But of course, that is foolishness. Christ did not die to make small improvements in my character. He was not born to give me a little boost up the ladder of self-actualization. God in Christ was born to become like me and died that I might become like Him. If I do not see that my need for him begins at the very foundations of my being, at the root of my soul and spirit, I cheat myself of the gift that God longs for me to receive: the joy of being found in Christ, being filled with His love and so becoming an instrument of His peace. Yet, as obvious as this is, sometimes I need a storm to blow me there!
When I was a boy of seven, I dawdled in the playground after school and missed the bus that was to bring me home. So, with a friend, I walked home. It was quite a distance, some of it on the verge of a major highway. A few hours later, as I appeared at the door, my mother — utterly distraught — got on her knees and threw her arms about me in the tightest hug I have ever received in my life. Then she put her hands on my shoulders, got eye-to-eye with me, and proceeded to let me know exactly what my future would look like if I ever again thought of doing anything that stupid. Her voice was no louder than a whisper, but it felt like a wind (a hot wind, in this case) blowing right through me.
I was then sent to my room for a few hours of meditation. At some point before supper, I suddenly called to mind how grief-stricken she had looked. I realised she loved me more than anything, and for the first time, I was sorry. It has been over sixty years since that moment, but I have carried both – the repentance and the love – in my heart throughout my life.
We do this for one another, in the Church, when we are at our best. We hold on to one another with a fierce love, for we belong to one another inseparably, as members of Christ’s Body. We also know the wind of the Spirit is constantly revealing our weakness, our own need for God’s mercy, and so we can call one another to repentance, and receive together with joy the blessing of Christ.
We do this every Sunday in our liturgy. For the remaining days of Advent, can we learn to practice it more in our common life, to live as though we were indispensable to one another, and to help one another come without fear before the throne of grace? There is no better preparation for the coming feast of our Lord’s Incarnation, when we will receive Him once again into our hearts.
May God bless you richly in this holy season.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt Rev Dorsey McConnell
Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney