Monday, 24 December 2018

An Advent and Christmas Reflection

I have a strong dislike of planning for Christmas and hearing Christmas songs before December. I have even been compared to Ebenezer Scrooge. But this isn’t because I hate Christmas, in fact I love Christmas and I also love Advent. The four weeks leading up to Christmas is my favourite period of the Christian Year: the New Year of the church, four Sundays before Christmas, begins a period of reflection, of watching, of waiting, of re-reading the prophecies of God’s promises, of quietly searching for the light in the darkness that can seem to be all around us.

But the preparation for Christmas I see in the society around me troubles me more each year. I see people place a lot of hope in things that don’t get them what they want. Christmas seems to start at the beginning of November and finish before Christmas Day is over. I’ve seen people open piles of presents on Christmas day only to discard them to rush to the Boxing Day sales. As many as eight million people in this country will start January in debt because of Christmas. People eat and drink far more than is good for them, and put up more and more decorations each year, searching for the perfect picture for Instagram. Others place their hope in their jobs and careers, working for longer than they need to. There seems to be little space for Advent and even for the following eleven days of Christmas. Long before the joy of Epiphany much of the world has moved on. Parliament spent Advent in uproar over Brexit, and there has been weekend after weekend of rioting in Paris, it seems many people have put their hope in power and politicians and been disappointed.

As Christians, we are hopefully less vulnerable to the worst excesses of ‘secular Christmas’ and putting our hope in the wrong places. But we still rush around, cooking, cleaning, decorating, wrapping, baking, and staying up half the night trying to create a perfect day. I’ve seen people rush around organising so many church services and singing so many Carols that they feel a disappointment when it is over, saying they did not really experience Christmas at all. The comfort that we need in the midst of pain and grief and suffering does not lie in the things around us in this world. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” prophesied Isaiah (9:2) seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

Christmas comes not only to the rich and well organised; it is not just for young children, or for people who already know Jesus. It comes, to the lowly and the poor. To the young Mary and Joseph, and the outcast shepherds, as well as the learned wise men, and the elderly Simeon and Anna in the temple. It comes to those like Zechariah and Elizabeth who thought their time may be past, and to a young couple in an occupied country forced to flee the persecution of Herod. It comes to John the Baptist in the wilderness and to an Innkeeper in the crowded town of Bethlehem. The Joy, Awe, Wonder, Peace and Hope of Christmas comes to all those willing to follow the star and listen to the angels - to all those who make space for the Baby who was named Jesus, who is Immanuel, God-With-Us.

The coming of the Messiah is the fulfilment of God’s promises, the proof that he has not forgotten his people and the embodiment of our Salvation. It is not a glittery, shiny, empty promise. Our mighty God with overwhelming power comes to save us as a tiny helpless baby – rejecting the worship of power, riches, control, strength and dominance - born into danger and poverty in a Manger. It is something we all need to experience every year afresh, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Christmas gives us an ultimate hope for the future too - as we wait this Advent; we work for the growth of God's Kingdom of hope, faith and love, and we wait for Jesus to come again in Glory.

So that brings me to the challenge of this devotion: what are you going to NOT do this Christmas? How will you remind yourself of God’s promises, and make room for Jesus, God with us?

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