The semi-colon is in steep decline; soon hardly any one will use it. Which would be a pity, since it’s perhaps my favourite punctuation mark. It surprises and causes us to pause, partly because we are so unfamiliar with it, and have to stop and work out what it is asking us to do, but then, that’s what the semi-colon is for; making us pause for thought and pay attention to what we are reading.
What’s that got to do with Advent, you might ask. Well, that depends on how much you are willing to think about what we are celebrating; how much you are willing to turn aside from the unchanging, anaesthetising, rigmarole of getting ready for our Big Midwinter Celebration*. But turning aside isn’t something we do easily because we like the familiar, the predictable, and although we say we like to have new things, what re really like are new versions of what what we already have or know.
Yet Advent is not meant to be like that, just more of what came before. Check the Readings for this Sunday; they are not the least bit Adventy, in fact they are rather unpleasant, shocking even, shouting out “have you not noticed?” But there’s the problem; we have noticed, but decide that it would be easier if we hadn’t. Think back to the much ridiculed Don Rumsfeld and his three categories of knowledge: the Known, the Known Unknown and the Unknown Unknown, which made perfect sense to me in 2001. But he left out a fourth category, because as well as the things we know, those we know we don’t know, and those we haven’t the least ideas about, there are the things we do know, but rather wish we didn’t, because it’s too challenging or unpleasant, and then in embarrassment or guilt, we have to deal with what we refused to face. Let me explain; imagine a people who had been told repeatedly, for years, that they be at risk form a terrible disease that might sweep the world, and who then were completely surprised by it happening. Obviously, that would never happen here; oh!
So, instead of just expecting everything to be rather as it has been, we need some semi-colon moments, which is why we have Advent, because, if Jesus says in this Sunday’s gospel that our redemption is at hand, then he might be warning us that it’s not what we expect. But we already knew that, didn’t we.
*I try to avoid mentioning the big ‘C’ event for a few weeks yet. Perhaps we could go American and talk about the ‘Holidays’, remembering that holiday really means Holy Day anyway