01 December 2019 10:33

Advent calendar Christmas Day Advent

Giving the Advent season its due

I'm all for happiness, joy, eggnog, corny sweaters and parties, but to rush into Christmas without first taking time to collectively acknowledge the sorrow in the world and in our own lives seems like an inebriated and overstuffed practice of denial. There is still good news to celebrate, even when — perhaps especially when — it's been a hard year. The arrival of Christmas Day is not the culmination of the holiday season, but merely the starting pistol for almost two weeks of good food and drink, parties and community gatherings, lights and gifts, service and time together. Times of worship become jubilant and joyful: White replaces purple, babies are finally placed in mangers, and Christmas carols fill the air. My church community tries to keep the party going for 12 whole days, which can be a little hard when everyone else's tree is on the curb and school is starting up again, but we try nonetheless.

With the onslaught of "IT'S CHRISTMAS!!!" arriving earlier every year, fending it off in favor of a slower, quieter season can seem like a losing battle. Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. Advent, in many ways, is a season of surrender. It is "waiting in joyful hope." But really, when everything around us is already screaming Christmas, how can we take the time in this busy season to just wait? Here are five tips to help you hang onto Advent and allow yourself and your family to experience the grace of the season.

As the calendar flips to December and we enter the Advent season, thoughts naturally turn to Christmas. Advent is the start of the new Liturgical Year (this year Cycle A), a season of preparation on so many levels, spiritually and otherwise. By the time we even begin Advent on Dec. 1, almost every store has brought out its Christmas merchandise to start the shopping season. We begin to hear the bells ringing in the malls and even the singing of Christmas carols in stores. This means that at the very early stage of our Advent journey, we may be tempted to solely engage in the activities that are associated with the preparation for Christmas in our secular world — shopping, home decoration, gift-wrapping and writing of Christmas cards.

There is nothing wrong with spending some of our time on these activities, but it is very important that we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord to help us spiritually prepare to celebrate Christmas. Advent invites us in a special way to reflect on what the season means to us as followers of Christ. We need to look deep within our hearts to rediscover the spiritual understanding of the true meaning of Advent. The season of Advent can be described as a period of waiting during which we seek ways towards spiritual renewal. How can we make use of this waiting period to get ready to celebrate Christmas?

In light of the penitential nature of Advent, this might be a good time to turn to John the Baptist for inspiration on making the best use of the season. John the Baptist is described in the Gospels as "a child called to be a prophet of the Most High to go before the Lord to prepare His way" (Luke 1). When we strive to respond to the call to change our ways by embracing what John the Baptist preached about, we may encounter a more spiritual path to Christmas. The celebration of Confession, learning to move from our past ways to a new beginning of hope and to live as followers of Christ — all these are actions that are in the spirit of Advent. When we strive to respond to the call by John the Baptist during this period of waiting, we can learn to be of service to others.

When we serve we may prepare others for the coming of the Lord on Christmas Day. However, to make the season of Advent Christ-centred we need to do more. We need to change our attitude to life and allow the Spirit to "guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79). Advent calls us to surrender ourselves and be transformed by the Spirit of love of God. Have a spirit-filled Advent season! Com Church in the town of Dunstable has created an online hub called Christmas Town where businesses, organisations and churches can advertise their Christmas event on the church's website. Pastor of Com Church, Julian Richards, told Premier: "The world has a festival that has Christ's name in it, the Church should be at the front. Pastor Richards told Premier it's important for the church to the centre of the community, especially during the festive season. "When it's Christmas and Christ's name is there, we should be at the forefront of the celebration. And I think how the world does Christmas at the moment so materialistically and with a very selfish approach to Christmas, it's right that the Church takes its rightful place. If people see the Church doing its job and being the head of the community at Christmas time, I think it speaks volumes."