This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. There is little doubt what most of us will be doing in the next four weeks – the Christmas rush to get everything organised – cards written, gifts bought and sent, the preparation of food, plans about whose turn it is to go visiting and anxieties about who’ll be offended if we don’t pay them enough attention etc etc…. The rush is on and it’s not surprising that there’s often a hint of panic in people’s conversations – “I’ll never be ready!”
In four weeks, it will all be over, in five a new year will have brought us another set of resolutions, in six the decorations will have come down, the furniture of life will be back in place and we’ll be back to – well, back to what?
Will life be just the same, or will we be changed?
If we take Advent seriously, there is a chance we will be changed because we will have had an opportunity to reflect again on what it means to say that God came into the world in the humility of the birth at Bethlehem and that he still comes into the world in all its mess and pain and joy, longing for us to recognise Him.
Advent is a godsend, a gift which stops us in our tracks and makes us realise that we hold dual citizenship (of this world and His kingdom) in awkward tension. We are all part of the scene – Christians sometimes appear to be rather superior about what we call ‘commercialisation’ and say that the real Christmas isn’t about that. But actually, if you think about it, the real Christmas is about precisely that: it’s about God coming into the real world. Not to a sanitised stable as we portray it in carols and on Christmas cards, but to a world that needed, and still needs, mucking out! Advent reminds us that the kingdom has other themes to add to the celebration, themes that are there in our scripture readings for the season: Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!
Advent reminds us that not only do we live in two worlds – the one that appears to be going mad all around us and the one that lives by the kingdom of God’s values, but that we operate in two different timescales, in chronological time and beyond it. And the point of intersection – where these two worlds meet is now. Scripture readings and prayers which are often used during Advent, remind us that now is the time when we have to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Now is when we meet God, because we have no other time.
At whatever level we operate, it’s a time for preparation – a time to put things right – to repair broken relationships or reach out to those with whom you have grown distant – and that might include working on your relationship with God.
Whatever else we have to do, there are only so many praying days to Christmas. It is prayer that gives us the opportunity to focus our recognition of God in every part of our lives. Prayer is not just what we do in what we call our prayer time. Prayer is how we give our relationship with God a chance to grow and develop and, just like any other relationship, it needs time. We don’t stop being related when we are not with the person concerned. We don’t stop being a partner, a wife, husband, child, parent or friend when that person is out of sight or when we are concentrating on something else. But we do become less of a related person if we never give them time.
So, Advent says, make time, create space so that our understanding of God’s love for us (and our love for God in response) can grow. The world is saying “Get on with it – don’t wait for Christmas to hold the celebrations”. Advent says, “Wait, be still, alert and expectant.”
The shopping days will come to an end – there will come a moment when we really can’t do any more. The point of praying or making a space is that we get into the habit of remembering God who comes to us every day and longs for us to respond with our love and service. Why not re-start your relationship with God by joining us at Dornoch Cathedral on Advent Sunday (28th November) at 6pm for a special Advent Carol Service? – Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!