Advent, it seems to me, can often be time of huge contrast. In many ways it seems to be a time in which life steps up a gear, that the drive towards Christmas really gets going with gusto! It’s busy, it’s demanding, there seems like a thousand things to do and not enough time to do it. Although we know when Christmas is (it’s the same day every year), it often seems to catch us off guard. Even as I write this, I’m reminded that it’s now only 31 days away!! My unpreparedness starts to overwhelm me!!!
It’s easy perhaps, to become overwhelmed with it all, to become swept up in the commotion and business, only coming back down to land on Christmas night when the shops are finally shut and there is nothing left to buy…..or is there something I’ve forgotten!! Well, there are all the presents still to wrap!! It’s not surprising then perhaps that we can be left wondering where it all went come Boxing Day morning. We can be left asking what all the work was actually for, and was it all worth it, often the stress and anxiety of advent gets the better of us come Christmas.
In many ways then, Advent becomes about preparing for Christmas, and of course that is how it ought to be, but it does so in a way that exacerbates, rather than contrasts, with the speed and immediacy of life more generally. What we lose, under the weight of these preparations and expectations, is not only something of the true joy of Christmas, but more than that, we lose something of the true beauty of Advent in and of itself.
Perhaps you are now expecting me to say something or other about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’, or something of the standard lament at what Christmas has become, with the true story of Jesus being lost within it’s midst. I am however, going to try and resist such a message, instead I think I want to offer a slightly more positive and hopeful thought. Because, I think, Advent reminds us that patience is indeed a virtue, it reminds us perhaps to reflect on the journey rather than the destination, and to find the grace and joy that each day offers us along the way.
Once we find our pace, once we find time to slow down, to use the waiting, to embrace it, to find meaning in the anticipation of what’s to come, it is then that we can begin to see beyond the lament of what Christmas may have become. It is then that we begin to see and to witness joy, joy that spreads far beyond the walls of church, joy that is lived out in a very real sense, by those that live in our community.
Now, yes, there is something of the true meaning of Christmas being lost in the process, I admit that fully, but perhaps I’m an optimist, or maybe more likely I’m optimistic about people. For when we pause for a moment, when we take in Advent, when we embrace the season, and the anticipation of it, when we look and listen to what’s going on around us, what we then find might not always be the truth of the Christmas story, we might not find faith as such, but we can and do find that for many, many, people, for millions of people the world over in fact, Christmas is instinctively a time for finding joy, and hope, and positivity, it is a time that people look for it, desire it, try to make it manifest in their lives and the lives of those that they love. It is instinctively a time that people seek, in some way, to see the good in each other and in the world around them. Indeed much of the business of advent, is an acknowledgment of just how special Christmas is.
For us as Christians, our purpose within that, is perhaps then to share the reason why that instinct is indeed well founded, why it makes sense, and why it is particularly true during the advent season. For centuries, Christians have reflected on the Birth of Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, God born amongst us, as saying something truly and profoundly affirming about humanity, and about God’s love for his creation. Because of this, it is a time of joy, of hope, a time that God himself, from the depths of his love for, and his affirmation of, each and every one of us, sought to make that joy and hope manifest with our shared life together. It is perhaps the one single act in all of history, that says that there is something beautiful, something of worth, something of significance, held within humanity itself, in fact it is of such beauty, such worth, such significance, that Jesus was born amongst, as one of us, and out of his love for us all.
Revd Matt Grove
Curate of Christ Church & St Johns