“Black Friday” is upon us once again, marking the beginning of the secular celebration of Christmas. Coming as it does from the traditional shopping day after the American celebration of Thanksgiving, this is fast proving a popular marketing tool – although it would appear that the benefits to the consumer are less than they appear.
It would be very easy to sneer at the hijacking of the Christmas by the forces of global capitalism, which have seen the creeping anticipation of the season earlier and earlier into the year. But I’m not sure we should be humiliating the secular world for not being au fait with the Christian year. It is a gift to the People of God first and foremost. So, with the virtual tills of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” alerting us to the rapid approach of the Christian Season of Advent, how can we approach the coming weeks?
Let me offer you another familiar motif of the modern world – the motif of journey. I’m grateful to James, our Director of Music, for reminding me of this as he is preparing our Carol Service on 16th December around this theme. It has prompted me to ask three urgent Advent questions as we each make our own journey towards the Crib once again?
Where are you going? What direction is your life heading? I don’t mean by this whether you are fulfilling your personal ambitions or even (hard to imagine I know) whether you’ve managed to keep those New Year Resolutions going until the beginning of December? Rather this: the question is whether our lives are heading towards God or away from God. Even if the answer to that question is the latter, Advent invites us to stop and to turn around, literally the meaning of repent. The great gift of the Christian faith is that our ever-patient God asks us again and again to turn towards him and to journey deeper into God’s love. Where are you headed?
What are you carrying with you? Anyone who watches a family go on a journey these days knows how much stuff gets packed into the car (or people carrier) or into the suitcases. Even the airlines how have to restrict the amount of hand luggage as people board, so wedded to things we have become. Another Advent question is “do you really need all this stuff?” Personal belongings apart – and we probably have far more of that than we truly need – what personal baggage do we continue to hold? Truth be told, there are probably things that we could let go of in our lives – unhealthy habits, self-destructive patterns of behaviour and even one or two damaging relationships – and if we can’t quite let go of these things, then maybe we could allow these burdens to be carried by God in Jesus alongside us. “Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”, says the Lord. What burdens you?
How much time is there to go? Pondering our mortality is a very sobering Advent theme. Much of the world’s obsession is living for as long as possible, whereas it might well be the quality of life rather than its quantity that truly counts. That, at least, is the Advent message: be prepared. Should our lives end sooner rather than later, what would we be remembered for? What would you like to bequeath to others?
In all of these Advent questions, the truth of Christmas is already present, which is partly why we shouldn’t be too hard on the world. Christmas is already here and Christ in his love is already incarnate in the world, present not in his human body but in his spiritual body, the People of God. So, as we journey on, and as we mull over the provocative questions of Advent, we can be assured of God’s love in Jesus already, which can give us confidence to address the direction of our life and our priorities.
Where are you going?
What are you carrying with you?
How much time is there to go?
Have a great Advent and a rewarding, enriching Christmas.
Your brother and priest,