It happens every year. As soon as we reach the start of November, the media in all its forms starts exploding with advertisements for all things Christmas. From Asda to Waitrose, selling baubles to Yule logs, we’re now well into the season to push, push, push Noël.
And how many of us waited with baited breath for this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert? Does Buster the Boxer move us as much as Monty the Penguin? And will Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot, M&S’s Mrs Claus, or any other retailer’s offering finally take the seasonal marketing crown? As I write this, I’ve not yet seen what’s coming from Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco….
Now before everyone thinks I’m going all bah humbug, this article is not going to be a moan about the seemingly earlier onset of Christmas each year. But there is a point to be made – something that’s regularly missed in our December busyness.
In all the hustle and bustle of shopping, planning, cooking, wrapping and partying, in all the noise and clutter from the run up to Christmas, we have lost sight of something important. And that is Advent.
Of course, we’ve all heard of Advent, but what is it really about? To most people, it seems Advent has simply come to mean calendars with little chocolates behind cardboard doors. These days, Advent calendars rarely appear to have anything to do with the Advent season other than the simple marking of days until Christmas. The cynical might consider them just another marketing opportunity!
But Advent is about much more than calendars and chocolate. It is for good reason that Advent is the season that marks the start of a New Year in the life of the Church.
Advent is about preparation. It’s about the patient, watchful waiting in hope and expectation. It’s about pausing and quietly reflecting about what is to come.
Firstly, it’s the time for us all to prepare for the enormity of what happened that first Christmas day when Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem. Advent gives us a chance to take stock, to take time to worship the God who always planned to send his son Jesus to this earth.
Indeed, many of the traditional Advent readings that speak about Jesus are from the Old Testament of the Bible. These scriptures pre-date Christ by centuries or even millennia. Remarkably, they foretell Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. They speak of God’s incredible plan for the world. These are words that sustained centuries of believers in the hope that God would send his Son to restore humanity to a relationship with himself. What a privilege to live in a time where we can know this Jesus for ourselves!
However, there’s a second waiting at the heart of Advent. The Latin ‘adventus’ is translated from the Greek word ‘parousia’. This is commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. So as well as allowing us to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, Advent alerts us to the truth that Jesus will return to earth, this time as Lord of lords.
Of course, none of us know when Jesus will return. The early Church expected him imminently. 2,000 years later we’re still waiting. Maybe that’s why the idea can so often seem unreal and perhaps it explains why it’s easy for us to be complacent. However, doing so lulls us into a false sense of security.
We read in Acts chapter 1 that as Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels said that he would come back in the same way that he had gone. But are we ready to meet him? What will it be like? In the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 35 v31- 46), Jesus tells us clearly that the Son of Man will come back to judge, but also to reward, each of us according to how we treat others. I don’t know about you, but I find this a somewhat challenging thought!
As we face a season bombarded by a barrage of adverts convincing us that we need the latest product to be fulfilled in life, or by shopping at a certain retailer we will feel more ‘Christmassy’, Advent encourages us to stop and reflect. There is hope in Advent. There is hope in Jesus. The call of Advent is one of pause, waiting, hoping.
There’s so much truth in the old adage that it’s better to give than receive. Perhaps at this time of giving to those who will return our gifts, we should also consider helping those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, sick or in prison. We can bring hope to others – hope that ultimately comes from Jesus, both by his coming as a baby in Bethlehem and the promise of his return as Lord of lords.
As a church, this is something that St Wilfrid’s takes seriously. This year, collections at our Christmas services will be donated to two wonderful causes who bring hope and help to many. For over 50 years, Tearfund has worked tirelessly to help those in most need in some of the most deprived parts of the world and to fight for those who are oppressed. Portsmouth LifeHouse is a resource, support centre and soup kitchen in Southsea, targeting the issues surrounding homelessness and addiction for those in need in Portsmouth.
My challenge to us all this Advent is to carve out times of reflection in the midst of the chaos of the preparation for Christmas. Time to reflect on what we are celebrating. Time to pause in expectation and hope. Time to read the advent scriptures and to pray that God might inspire you afresh. And time to consider our own response to the Jesus who tells us that how we treat others really matters.
May I wish you a blessed Advent and peaceful and wonderful Christmas.