Advent is a funny time of year, a time of contrasts that jar and vie for priority:

Society at large turns its attention to more important things of life (friends, family, identity, and often some sense of spirituality) whilst at the same time spinning on the frantic axle of sales, keeping up with the Joneses, tatt and the grinding encounter of the generous impulse with budgetary necessity.

Most of the world celebrates family and friends, while the lonely and the bereaved feel the weight of sorrow doubled.

The Church begins her New Year and focuses on the Four Last Things, while the media start to list the crowning achievements of the calendar year just finishing.

The church enters the season of preparing for the end of the world, whilst inevitably spending most of its time talking about preparing for Christmas.

The Church enters a solemn season of fasting, stripping flowers and Glorias from their worship, while the world around us moves into Feasting: jolly songs and tinsel, parties and overindulgence.

Christmas looms: pagan and Christian, ancient and constantly reimagined, filled with symbols stolen from other times and other cultures as precious to us as our own family customs.

And in the midst of it, those of us with leaderships of one sort or another within the Church try and find some navigation, some steer, which affirms the good, builds bridges, proclaim the Good News -and yet, and yet somehow holds to this season of Advent.

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”

The Virgin of the Sign is a favourite ikon tradition of mine. Christ, still hidden within Mary’s body, blesses us. Before his birth, ministry, death or resurrection, before his ascension or return, creation is being restored by the life of God, concealed within the Virgin.

So in our ministry, it is not we who bless, but Christ, hidden (sometimes very hidden!) in our lives. It is not the Church that is expected to transform creation, but the Life of God that grows within. This is the secret God, the God who plays hide and seek: least present where we most expect, only to surprise us with glory in the everyday or tawdry.

This is the Advent God, who draws near in the night. This is the God for whom we prepare, not knowing when or where we may find him in all his glory revealed to us. This is the Advent God, concealed in the celebrations and the grief, revealing herself in the folk-religion and touching people in their unknown need. God is bringing all things into fulfilment, unseen, unknown: working through his Church because (according to frankly ineffable economy of God) he has chosen so to do.

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”

Like Mary, we open our hands in prayer, revealing what may be seen – or not – in who we are, where we find ourselves. In the outrageous contrasts of the season and in the ancient liturgies of Church, we proclaim, ‘whether you see her or not: God is here’.

Lindsay Llewellyn-Macduff is Chaplain to the Bishop of Rochester, Liturgical Advisor to Rochester Diocese, and teaches Liturgy and Worship at St. Augustine’s.