The Most Wonderful Time?
No, don’t worry, I’m not going all ‘C-word’ already! Next month we will think about that. However, November does generally see the temperature begin to rise, both in terms of our own preparations for the ‘big day’ and, inevitably, among those who object to either ‘C-word’ at all, or the talk of ‘that season’ starting before the leaves are off the trees. I confess I saw my first fully decorated house in Widnes during the first week of November, so for some people it’s never too early! If you use Facebook (other social media platforms are available), you will probably be aware that there are ‘C-word Countdowns’ running basically from Boxing Day, usually featuring Will Ferrell in his guise as Buddy from the film ‘Elf’ (which is quite a funny film, in fact, but not in June). I love ‘C-word’, but I do get a little wound up about the presence of ‘C-word’ trees in the supermarkets in early November, and the ‘seasonal aisle’ featuring ‘C-word’ comestibles from early October. I must stress, however, that my unease does not stem from any Scrooge-like humbuggishness, but from a different source.
I suppose all ministers make similar observations every year, but as nobody seems to listen, we have to keep making them.
The point of ‘C-word’ is not to get into debt so that you can purchase the latest ‘must have’ gift. And the point of the run-up to ‘C-word’ is not to get all the food and pressies in and wind ourselves up into a frenzy about the ‘big day’, as a result of which the actual day itself can, for many, be one of stress and disappointment. Not to mention the credit card bills come January, a very real issue for many families in this country.
The problem is that the run-up to ‘C-word’ is not a time for indulgence and parties, ‘C-word’ meals and planning, decorations and present lists. Or visits to that man’s grotto. It is a time for reflection and penitence.
The season we call Advent begins in 2017 on December 3rd, and comprises the four Sundays before ‘C-word’. As the day itself is a Monday this year, Advent is as late beginning as it can possibly be, with ‘C-word’ Eve falling on the fourth Sunday in Advent. This means that Advent itself is a scant three weeks long, as the season is not tied to a specific date. Historically, Advent has been longer, originally beginning on the day after the Feast of St Martin (11th November), with 40 days reflecting the length of the season of Lent, and serving a very similar purpose, and the Celtic tradition has maintained this practice. It is unclear how widely this longer Advent observation was adopted, but the 4 Sunday duration appears to have been the norm for many centuries.
The purpose of Advent is, of course, preparation. But not for a gift-laden, calorie-soaked orgy of commercialism. No, Advent, which means ‘coming’, is about preparing for the arrival of Jesus. Well, you knew that! It is not simply about nativity scenes and ‘Silent Night’ however, but about how Jesus will one day return, the so-called second coming, the second Advent. We remember the birth in Bethlehem, but look ahead to the end of days, when all the world will be remade, and we will stand before the throne of God and answer for our actions in life. However you think that will look – and there are many different opinions – it is an awesome image, and one which should give us pause for thought. And Advent is that pause, much like Lent. An opportunity to take a deliberate long, hard look at our lives and the world around us, a chance to make a change and some space to seek God’s help in doing so. Advent reflections and reading abound, with excellent ones usually being recommended by the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, though there are plenty of free online resources too. Daily readings and prayers, maybe coupled with our Advent calendars, are excellent ways to make a space for God in the run up to the most remarkable thing ever.
That great Advent anthem, ‘O Come, O Come Immanuel’ reminds us of this amazing gift – God dwelling on earth. ‘Free thine own from Satan’s tyranny’ and ‘give them victory o’er the grave’. The scope of what is set in motion by that birth in Bethlehem is truly staggering. The playing out on earth of God’s ultimate plan to bring His children – us – back into a loving relationship with Him.
So take advantage of this time to rediscover the truth behind the season – away from Moz and ‘order now for guaranteed ‘C-word’ delivery’. Search Advent resources online, or pop into a decent bookshop and browse. Get yourself ready, make some space in your day to think about the real meaning behind the tinsel and gifts.
Don’t miss the point.