It’s that time of year again: the Council has hung illuminations, oversized snowflakes, spheres, and holly, over the High Street. The mall is decked with coloured lights and decorated trees, your in-box full of offers from the internet grocery store, several on-line websites have pre-party-time sales, you have three school carol concerts to attend, there are cards and puddings to write and to make, and in town the shops are hot, over-stuffed, and overcrowded.
Meanwhile, our church is stripped bare of flowers and decoration...
Yes, it’s the famous Christmas Run-up!
So, some of us are excited, some are cynical, all are stressed …
There is of course a Third Way, and it is called Advent …
While the whole Western-ised world is in a shopping frenzy, the season of Advent tells us to Watch and Wait. And while we do, to recall the journey of prophecy and promise which leads towards Jesus’ birth.
‘Oh the holly and the ivy
Are dancing in a ring
Round the berry bright red candles
And the bright and shining King’ (Michelle Crawford copyright)
The Advent Wreath is a lovely symbol. In our church the Sunday School children gather around it each Sunday in Advent, and again Christmas Day, for the lighting ceremony. Our song (chorus below) has a verse for each of the weeks, centering on the Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary, and finally Jesus, symbolised by the white central candle.
Previously, there was a wonderful device which was used to haul the Wreath up high into the ceiling of the church. It must’ve been most spectacular, and is now long gone due to health and safety concerns.
I asked our Sunday School organiser about it. She wrote:
‘I built the "flying Advent Wreath" out of chicken wire and blu tak and fishing line about 30 years ago, and it was the privilege of an "older teenage member" of my class to raise and lower it. (The then Vicar) did the engineering by throwing a weighted line over the beam....we then worked on a rudimentary system which meant it could be raised each week after lowering for each candle to be lit. We used a "hook" on pillar by the organ to secure the "line". …I think we couldn't do it nowadays...it was very "Heath Robinson!" '
Robinson reminds me … our own Amy Robinson wrote a book for Advent: Tales from the Jesse Tree ...another way to wait, discovering Jesus’s ‘family history’!
Note to myself from the Advent Notebook (2007): Do not lose the point of Advent beneath the daily trials of the ordinary days of the season …’
Advent offers personal ‘preparation’ in our quiet daily time with God, focusing on the coming of Jesus at the Incarnation and at the end of time. A chance to step back from rush and hurry. One year, (2007), a friend and I decided we would keep notebooks of our Advent reading, activities, and thoughts. I’m not a regular journal-keeper, but today I re-discovered this notebook.
It includes a church ‘Prayer Diary’ for each day in Advent; a list of members of our prayer Group (some have moved away … some we have lost touch with …); my thoughts on the ‘Advent ‘O’s’ (titles of Jesus: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David); notes on the weather, on how my writing is going (I was writing Baby, Baby); on a dinner party for our lodgers (now married & with a family); a photo of my friend’s grandson lighting their Advent Candles; an invitation to a neighbour’s party; photos of our big family get-together at my sister-in-law’s house (the family now too numerous and scattered to all meet annually); the crown from my Christmas cracker, and record of games we played on Christmas Day.
All interspersed with quiet thoughts on the spiritual season of waiting.
Not just for the Baby Jesus. The Incarnation is mysterious, and vital to our knowledge of Jesus. But we also wait for his return: Advent is the mysterious season which, at the end of the ‘Church’s Year’ of celebrating each of the events in Jesus’s human life, up to his reigning as Christ the King, meets itself again in his Incarnation.
For the weeks of Advent, we are blessed in that we can find a spiritual peace in turning our minds away from hustle and bustle of the ‘run up’ to the feast day. We can wait, for ‘The Word’ is about to ‘become flesh and dwell among us’. We are invited to focus on the meaning of this, and find ways to turn away from the excess towards the Source of salt and light.