Christmas is coming; it’s here in the shops, winter lights are going up, and Santa is arriving soon (it feels a bit early to have an appearance the day before Advent Sunday, but apparently there is one). It won’t be long now before home decorations start, and many outside extravaganzas are lit up. You can buy cards, presents, and find out what’s happening in churches. Many have carol services throughout Advent, as different organisations wish to celebrate. Yet, Advent is not Christmas; it is a preparation for Christmas, and for Christ’s coming amongst us, both as a baby in Bethlehem, and when he comes again. It is a preparation for welcoming the Christ amongst us, that seems to have been overtaken by a secular culture, for whom celebrating Christmas happens throughout December (if you’re lucky; much earlier if you’re not). There’s a tension between the keeping of Advent as just that – a time of preparation for the celebration and the celebration that happens all around us – and which we are inevitably drawn into, especially perhaps if you have with numerous carol services to organise. It seems we have little choice: none of us want to be wet blankets, especially at this time. We want to draw people in to celebrate Christ’s birth, and in advance seems the only time to do it. The keeping of Christmas for 12 days afterwards also seems a little incongruous, as shops change their campaigns from Christmas to sales as soon as possible after December 25th.
Yet while all this is important, we do also need to focus on the time of Advent as a time of preparation, a time of waiting. We can’t ignore Christmas completely, yet let us not lose sight of the purpose of Advent; and maybe the tension with how the world celebrates Christmas is part of that. For waiting can be a time of tension, of anticipation. A time of ‘not quite yet’ … and as Christmas celebrations go on all around us, and as we participate in some, we can use that time to remind ourselves that the time is ‘not quite yet’. That we are still in a time of preparation for Christ’s coming amongst us. For are we ready and waiting for our Lord to come among us, or are we diverted on other concerns, worried about how many cards to send, or how to get the perfect present?
Will be ready for the moment of Christ’s coming? Will we be ready watchful for the moment? Watchful and ready to proclaim – there is Christ our king! Will we be able to see that there is Christ amongst us? Have we taken time out of our busyness to spend time with Christ, to know and walk with him? Will there be time this Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming, amongst the necessary preparing for Christmas? Will we be able to acknowledge that the tension between now … and not quite yet is a tension we feel not only during Advent, it is a tension that we exist and live in all the time. For Christ has come, died, was buried and rose again, sending the Holy Spirit amongst us; and, yet, the time of fulfilment is not here, we still live in a world beset by sin and trauma, the ending is not yet.
So this Advent be willing to spend time with the joy that Christmas can bring, albeit a little early; yet spend some time, too, on preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth among us. Live the tension of the seasons with the Christian year, and remember: at all times we need be waiting, watchful, expectant for our Lord to appear, not just at the end of time, but for all those moments when God will speak to us, in whatever way, and appear to us, however unusually. During my first December in Norwich, everywhere I went I heard Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer being sung, and started to wonder if God was trying to tell me something through this song… I’ve never forgotten this (although, let’s be honest, it was only three years ago); yet I still ponder the meaning of Rudolf … and maybe, at some point, there’s a blog piece in there. Watch this space!