The Christmas rush to get everything organised is on – card’s written, gifts decided upon bought, food prepared, plans about whose turn it is to bring the pudding and sprouts. In four weeks it will all be over. In five, we will be making New Year resolutions. And in six weeks all the decorations will be back in the loft. We will move the furniture back to where it used to be and life will go back to how it was before. Or will it? Will we be changed?
If we take Advent seriously, I hope that we will be changed, because we will have opportunity again to reflect upon what it means to say that God came into the world, in the poverty and powerlessness of the birth at Bethlehem. And that God still comes into the world in all its mess and pain and longing and joy, and God longs for us to recognise him at work.
Really, if you think about it, Advent is a Godsend that widens our horizons, and makes us realise we actually hold “dual citizenship,” of this world and of the kingdom in tension with one and other. It’s very tempting for us to say that we aren’t part of the commercialisation of Christmas, and to say that Christmas isn’t all about that. But in a way it is. It’s about God coming into the real world, not the neat and pretty picture of our Christmas cards. God comes into the real world that still needs “mucking out!”
Advent reminds us that the church has other themes to add to the celebration, things that we read in scripture, such as be ready; be prepared; repent; be awake; he comes! Advent then is a time of preparation and whatever else we are doing, we are reminded that there are only so many praying days left until Christmas. Prayer of course isn’t just what we do in our prayer time, prayer is how we give our relationship with God a chance to flourish and develop. And just like all our other relationships it requires time.
Advent is the season that says, “Make time!” Find a space so that our understanding of God’s love for us in Jesus, and our love for God through Jesus in response can grow. The culture around us might be saying forcefully, “Get on with it, – don’t wait for Christmas to hold the celebration.” But Advent says, “Wait, reflect, be still, alert and expectant.”
Some people find it helpful to have a focal point for their stillness, like a lit candle. Any candle will do. But I remember being given a special candle in my second year here, with the days marked on them, so that I didn’t have any excuse for not remembering. And using that candle reminded me that before the invention of chocolate filled advent calendars and clocks, people used candles to measure time. Christmas it seems is bound up with time and eternity. We’re celebrating God becoming involved in our world in Jesus, and God invites us to make time for him. Shopping days will eventually come to an end, but the point of the praying days is that we get into the habit of remembering God, who comes to us every day, and longs for us to respond with our love.
Wait! Be alert! Be prepared! Jesus is coming!
In the places of decision making
And the places of powerlessness:
In the places of wealth
And the places of poverty:
Where we are healthy,
Where we are sick:
In the streets of plenty
And in the dark corners:
Where people are oppressed
And in the hearts of the oppressors:
In our places of worship
And where there is no faith:
In our places of learning
And in the depths of our ignorance:
In our homes and our welcome
And where people couldn’t care less:
Thy Kingdom Come.