By The Rev’d Preb Julian Ould
I can hardly believe that we are almost at Christmas again and I really do wonder where the year has gone in spite of the Covid times. I say ‘almost’ but alas it would seem that as far as the shops are concerned Christmas is here and this is a pity.
It is a pity because the commercial machine seems to put huge pressures upon people, both financially and with a series of expectations that demand time most of us just don’t have. I am, for example, wondering how I am going to get all the Christmas cards done and indeed, not only buy various presents, but deal with the problem of delivering them or, if possible, posting them.
It is also a pity because, by the time we actually reach Christmas Day most of us have run out of steam. The decorations in the shops are starting to look tired and some are even removed on Christmas Eve in readiness for the sales (which I notice started on Black Friday in some shops!).
And finally, it is a pity because the season of Advent is completely smothered and so leaves little or no chance to prepare and reflect on the true point of our celebration. Which, of course, is the wonder of God becoming man and living amongst us.
Advent traditionally was preceded with Stir up Sunday (so named because the collect for the day began, ‘Stir up O Lord’) but also became the day on which the Christmas puddings were made and stirred up, using up all the luxury goods before the slightly sombre season of Advent when we put aside such distractions, enabling us to prepare. Advent then followed and, as the term suggests, was looking to the arrival of something, the ‘advent’ of Jesus’ birth on earth. Our preparation was and is to hopefully be ready to receive our Lord anew, welcoming him into our hearts and minds and celebrating the fact that God so loved the world that he actually gave himself to us that we might be drawn into a closer relationship with Him and find all the happiness that there was to be had.
We speak of Jesus being the light of the world and as I am often saying, I prefer to use the term enlightenment, in that He came to us, as one of us, to show us how to live and how to find such glories. There was no demand in this: just an open invitation, for to share the love of God requires a free response. The problem is that even though the advent of Jesus made a huge impact on the world, there is still much that distracts us from readily responding and nowhere is this more evident than at Christmas.
One of the Advent traditions is to have a series of candles lit each Sunday, beginning with one and gradually increasing up to the fourth Sunday and then lighting a final and fifth one on Christmas Day. The candles, as with all candles used in Church, speaks of Jesus’ enlightenment and in this context, we can see a gradual progression, like the coming of dawn, when on Christmas Day we can fully see God’s love for us, having prepared for this event.
So, Advent is for preparation and I believe is an important period if we are to really appreciate the significance of Christmas, which thankfully even the commercial extravaganza seems to understand as a season of good will to one another – a positive step towards understanding this momentous event. However, our preparation is not about piety and trying to be holy. Rather it is about self examination and asking ourselves whether the love of God really makes a difference to our lives. And the difference is about acknowledging what makes for real happiness. For some it is tempting to suggest that it is about having everything materially that you could possibly want. Certainly, the commercial machine that cranks up every year for Christmas would seem to suggest that our lives would be the poorer without all manner of things. But in reality this is very short lived and, as someone who seemed to have everything recently said to me, it is friendship that really makes you happy, not things. If we do nothing other than grasp the importance of this statement during this Advent, then we will have done well.
Jesus comes to us out of love. He comes to us that we might be drawn to share this love with one another and with Him, and this is the greatest gift that we could possibly wish for and certainly worth preparing for.
With every blessing.