Perhaps it’s because we’ve had so many sparkling blue-sky days in October and November that I really don’t feel it’s time to start the journey to Bethlehem.
So, to gear me up I’ve been pondering what Advent really means to me.
It’s certainly about waiting. Advent pushes back Christmas ensuring we don’t get there too early. Marks and Spencer’s may have had their trees up since before October half-term but some of us in the churches pull back from singing the carols too early.
Waiting is part of life and the patience it teaches us can make us slow down and live life with a ‘long view’ that can be really helpful.
Waiting need not be a passive exercise. Even as we ‘wait’ we can be active.
I love that idea from the Jewish scriptures that even as the people were in exile in places like Egypt or Babylon waiting for a time when they could return home, they were encouraged to play their part in society, pray for country and make their mark in any way they could.
Waiting is about travelling hopefully.
And Advent is, I think, about preparing. That’s part of its origins as a time of fasting in preparation for the feasting of Christmas. Lent and Advent, in the medieval Church were very similar seasons and both share the liturgical colour purple today.
Yet isn’t our preparation only ever one side of the coin. We may be making diligent preparations for Christmas lunch but in the end the guests around the table and the conversation and laughter they bring will be just as important as the food.
I’d like to think the same is true spiritually. This Advent I hope I will spend time preparing. I can’t promise I’ll do that by fasting as it’s normally about one special meal a week between now and December 25th, but I want to consciously acknowledge this season. My experience is that however much we prepare God can bless us with new insights and precious moments that come to us as something of a surprise.
And lastly, Advent is certainly about revisiting. Most of us will follow the pattern of previous years. We’ll sing familiar carols and take part in well-worn customs. We might even moan about the same things as last year!
There is a rhythm to any year. The autumn is fading, winter is beginning, and our thoughts turn to Advent. By Christmas the days will be at their shortest. Into this rhythm the Church will turn our thoughts to the promise of life to come, the preaching of John the Baptist, the obedience of Mary and the coming of the Christ child.
We once visited some friends in Adelaide, Australia. They had spent six months in Edinburgh, concluding their time there at Christmas. I commiserated with them that they had had to miss a sunny Australian yuletide. ‘Not a bit of it’ they said. They told me how much they had loved Advent in Scotland and how precious it had become to them walking down Princes Street at dusk as the lights flickered in the shops as the mid-afternoon darkness closed in. They said how spiritually renewed and uplifted they had felt spending this season away from home.
Well, on Sunday Advent begins and may it be for us too a season of light and hope.