David Newsome, International Office Volunteer (UK), reflects on the season of Advent.
Traditionally the Sunday before the start of Advent in England is known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’. It was a reminder, as it was in my home as a child, to make and stir the Christmas pudding in preparation for Christmas. Christmas puddings are a custom that dates from the Medieval period. They are made up of many kinds of dried fruit held together by egg and suet, sometimes moistened by treacle and flavoured with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. The pudding is usually aged for at least a month, so the reminder to make it just before the start of Advent, the four weeks of preparation that take us up to Christmas, is a useful one. Incidentally when I was a child, it was still the custom to hide a silver coin in the mixture, and it was supposed to bring good luck to the person who found it, (always assuming they hadn’t choked on it first!)
What many people in England do not realise is that the name ‘Stir Up Sunday’ has nothing at all to do with puddings! It takes it’s name from the words of a prayer traditionally used on that day, written in the 16th century, which begins as, ‘Stir up we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people. It is a prayer asking God to stir us up! As such, the words now point me to something much deeper than stirring puddings. In Hands at Work, we talk about ‘making it personal’ and fighting for the children of our communities as if they were our own. But it is so easy for our hearts to become indifferent or worse still, hardened, to the injustice and pain we see around us. We can go on teams to Africa or we can volunteer long-term with Hands at Work, and somehow or another we can become inured, or become untouched, by what we see and experience. The danger is we return from teams and move on with our lives forgetting those we have come to know or what we have witnessed, or our commitment to volunteering ends up as just a job. ‘Making it personal’ is about feeling it as if this is something I am experiencing directly or is happening to my own child, and our hearts need constantly to be stirred to maintain this. To be stirred in this way is to have a holy discontent that never rests content with the way the world is, that can never stand by in the face of injustice or remain indifferent to suffering and pain.
To stir our hearts is like the promise of the Prophet Ezekiel that God will give us: ‘A new heart and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ [Ezekiel 36 v.26]
Stirring is such a central part of the life our Care Points with the daily preparation of pap. Let’s make the prayer that God will stir our hearts afresh a daily part of our keeping of Advent this year. So as we come again to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our hearts may be renewed in love and service of all his children.
Stir up, O Lord, the hearts of your people this Advent time!