Christmas approaches, of that there is no doubt. As we near the end of November the signs are unmissable – shops piled high with festive goods, Christmas adverts on the telly, trees and decorations appearing in house windows and before very long, the old favourites playing on the radio. Love it or hate it, there is no getting away from the commercial preparations for the biggest money spinner of the year.
Advent, the season of preparation before Christmas, is, to many people, a time just to count the days. As the number of days gets fewer the excitement mounts, or the panic sets in and the preparations become more frenzied. In some way Advent is like that for all of us I guess.
But Advent has a deeper meaning. For people of faith, who look forward to the birth of Jesus, it’s not just a signal to open presents and put the turkey in the oven, but a sign of real hope for us and for the world, Advent is a time to prepare our hearts as well as our homes.
At the beginning of October I was involved in the leading of our Synod’s weekend conference for Lay Preachers and Worship Leaders. We took as our theme ‘Appreciating Advent’, and whilst it was a little odd to be thinking about December quite so early, it gave us the opportunity to think about what Advent means and how we can celebrate it in our churches over the four Sundays of Advent, which this year begin on 3rd December. Are we able to make the days count whilst we also count the days?
It was interesting to look at the lectionary readings for Advent and see how they fit together, forming a pattern of increasing expectation and hope for the people of Israel as they waited and longed for the coming of God’s anointed Messiah, who would save them. Like our Advent wreath which grows brighter each week with the lighting of an additional candle, so is the sense of anticipation in the readings, that God would rescue his people and peace and prosperity would reign. As the day draws nearer, we get to the parts of the story that we all recognise – with a young girl called Mary, engaged to a man named Joseph, being told by the Angel Gabriel that she will bear a child and that she will name him Jesus. This is the fulfilment of the promise; the celebration of the incarnation of God, the Word made flesh.
So as we Walk the Way through Advent are we able to make the days count too? Can we pause a moment or two and think about what Advent means to us – what celebrating Jesus’ birth means to us? Is there a sense of hope, anticipation and promise that we can hold on to as we count the days? If we can hold onto some of this in the midst of the other pressures that Advent brings then I feel that we might arrive at the big day rather less exhausted and rather more excited about what it is we are actually celebrating.
May I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Peace-filled New Year.