Well, the first Christmas lights have been up a while now, trees bought, Christmas jumpers donned and I dare say even a few mince pies consumed. We’ve been starved of joy and celebration for too long now and some of us simply can’t wait for Christmas. And yet, only this Sunday does Advent begin, and Advent Sunday for Christians marks the beginning of the waiting, the period of solemn preparation for the Feast of Christmas. Who can blame us if we feel we’ve had enough solemnity over 2020 to last a lifetime?
But the solemnity of Advent is different, it’s not about dread of something terrible or the mourning of a tragedy, rather it’s mounting anticipation of something truly wonderful. It’s not crushing but liberating, not isolating but communal. I’d suggest that rather than skipping eagerly over Advent to whatever festivity we can summon up for Christmas, we might welcome this season this year as one of particular value.
In recent years, rather than work through the traditional “four last things” (death, judgment, heaven and hell) many churches choose rather to focus on four virtues (or vocations) instead – namely, HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE. What more could the Church wish to bring to the world at this dark time than a taste, or an aroma, of these precious gifts? Perhaps each week of Advent, the appropriate one could be the focus of our meditation and our prayers. There are loads of online resources available, but I’ve signed up for free daily reflections from the Church of England. Perhaps you might do the same. Just click here: Comfort and Joy: our Advent and Christmas reflections | The Church of England
A well-spent Advent will prepare us for a far more meaningful and joyful Christmas – one that isn’t simply about letting-off steam and bursting our bubbles but rather a deep confidence and faith that, in welcoming Jesus as Immanuel (God with us), we are allowing his transforming love to restore and heal us. Christmas this year will, as we all keep saying to each other, be very different. Perhaps that can be a gain rather than a loss, as we welcome a loving Saviour into the darkness of the moment with the light of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.