Advent is one of those things I’ve always been aware of but it is only in the last year I have paid special attention to. Growing up, if you said ‘Advent’ my response would be ‘Calendar’ – it was the countdown to Christmas.
In recent years working in tech and eCommerce have alienated me from Christmas. The amount of money people throw at this secular festival is really something thats made me spend a long time thinking about what it even really means anymore. Increasingly the assertion that Christmas isn’t actually Christian thrown about at this time of year is rooted less in a desire for clarity but to exorcise Christian influence over the festival so it might be recast in a secular image. There are valid means to moderate and oppose such things pertaining to Christmas itself, but I realise it is Advent which helps us understand it in its distinctly Christian fashion.
Advent has a twofold character: for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered; and likewise when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period for devout and expectant delight
The above quote sums up my general knowledge of Advent. That firstly it serves as a period of remembering Jesus’s coming into the world and secondarily as a period of expectation looking towards his return. The first collect in the Book of Common Prayer for Advent reads..
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
The tone changes during the 3rd week of Advent upon which the collect reads..
O LORD Jesu Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
This reflects the two tone nature of Advent I mentioned earlier. Personally, I find Advent an immensely powerful time to reflect back on the year, my actions, thoughts, deeds and that of the world. It’s a sobering time that stands out in contrast to the trappings of contemporary Christmas. We always go forward into the year with such hope, but life is tough and we all have our faults and struggles. This reminds me of the hope and wonder of Christ coming as a child at Christmas and the seemingly tragic nature of his death. How could Mary have known what her Son was going to be subjected to? Yet Advent doesn’t leave us here in doubt and despondency and looks forward to Christ’s return. The tragedy becoming a comedy, despair into hope.
This isn’t news to many people and for me these are things I’ve heard again and again but it feels sometimes these things are fading memories. Such thoughts slip away with the passing of time and as the culture, and even the church, shifts around us. These celebrations are increasingly like stories seldom told. Those who do tell don’t even know the details, or worse don’t bother to tell you them because they expect you to be bored by such things. Yet I’m not bored, I want to be told again and again.
Whenever the first Christmas took place, it feels right that we celebrate it in the darkest time of year. I enjoy winter during the period of Advent because the cold and darkness of the world reminds me of our need for its light. The seasons themselves have a liturgical flavour to them in that we all share in them equally and are affected by their moods. The hope of the gospel penetrates my heart at this time in a way that doesn’t naturally happen the rest of the year precisely because of this literal contrast between light and dark, day and night. The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
In many ways I’m over Christmas. I still enjoy the food, the family and the music but I’m more interested in Advent now. For me it ends in the early hours of Christmas day, walking home from the Church after the midnight service. I imagine the angels singing around us as we go out from that place to take the light of God into the world. I’m filled with hope again and am looking forward to the return of the King.