At bedtime tonight two of my boys started playing with their bright green IKEA tunnel, climbing into it to lie down and pretend to sleep, as though it were a cocoon. Watching them I caught myself thinking, “Yes! That’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to build myself a cocoon and lie in it, until -” But until what, I’m not so sure.
This week, the season the church calls “Ordinary Time” comes to an end and, somehow, on Sunday Advent begins. For many people around me it seems like Christmas has been called early. The library in my school, where my office is, put up a tree and a Nativity scene. I know many who have put up their trees at home. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel ready for Christmas, not yet. After two years of lockdowns and pandemic fears, I don’t know how easy I will find it to slip into celebratory mode. We did that last year, I sometimes feel like saying, and look where it got us? I know that I, like the rest of society, will need to adjust to life as it is sometime, including the ongoing reality of COVID and the need to keep going with life all the same, but right now I simply feel too tired. Hence the desire for a cocoon.
But as I reflected tonight on my sons’ cocoon antics, I realised another thing: that I and others feel like sleeping and hiding because, like caterpillars, we are growing, and growing is tiring work. These last two years have stretched us beyond our wildest imaginings, and the stretching isn’t over. We’ll have to learn how to love across growing social divides, how to balance individual freedoms with public good. We will have to learn whole new ways of being in this world that we never would have imagined two years ago. To do all this growing and to stay moving all the while is unfathomably tiring.
There is more though. Whether we know it or not, we ache because we are longing for more than this life can hold hope to offer. Advent is all about this longing: longing for the saviour, longing for the light, longing for the life to come in which we will no longer be thwarted by death, longing to no longer feel naked, to be dressed in clothes that will never spoil. The apostle Paul put it this way:
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.2 Corinthians 5:1-4
When Christmas comes, we can celebrate that this Life has come to live amongst us. At Easter we can celebrate that this Life has swallowed up death. But we still live in the “meanwhile”, and we still groan. If we always groan, it means we do not know that promises have been kept, will be kept and one day will be fulfilled. But if we never groan we are not longing for the true Life that is yet to swallow up our mortal imperfections. Advent teaches us how to groan with gratitude. And for that I am glad we have Advent.
One day we will emerge from our cocoons, never too look back. But I am grateful that my God in His kindness knows that we are weak, that sometimes we need cocoons, sometimes need to groan. He also knows we need celebration, and teaches us the right way to celebrate too. And Advent fixes our eyes on the right focus of our celebration.
So, as this season of long, slow ordinary Wednesdays comes to a close, I will not climb into my cocoon, but I will thank God all the same that He knows and understands my frailty. And then I will wait with Him to see frailty swallowed up in eternal Life.