Advent draws nigh
Advent this year creeps into the last week of this month. Already commercial Christmas is beginning to make its presence felt, and the first Carol Services are only a few weeks away. Advent deserves more personal attention than often we allow. It is no use moaning about “Christmas creep”. That is a fact of life. But it also a fact of life that each individual can decide what he or she will read, listen to, and look at. Experience says that unless we are geared up well in advance for Advent there will be no significant engagement or movement spiritually. This is a profound loss; so get ready now!
The Advent season has such rich and deep veins of spiritual gold running through it – it deserves to be mined with effort and attention. Advent offers so much in its liturgy, and has produced a wealth of devotional material. Make a commitment to attend the Eucharist more regularly in Advent – make sure you are aware of the extra opportunities for worship and prayer that your church provides. It has a musical tradition that is older and deeper than that of Christmas; and from the Advent Carol Service onwards there is so much in which to immerse the heart and mind. Why not have a close look at the schedules of radio and television?
There is, of course, the Advent Calendar and the Advent Crown. Both of these should be reclaimed for the devotional aids that they are from “countdown to Christmas”. Both the calendar and candles can provide a gentle and beautiful presence in the home. But if you do not seek out suitable ones now, the opportunity will be missed. If you have children in the family it is a marvellous thing to have an Advent Tree. This can be a small branch with lights, and the decorations can be homemade: telling the story of salvation – like a Jesse Tree, or decorated with different kinds of angels, who are so much part of the events recalled in Advent.
There are available some very good booklets of daily readings and prayers produced for Advent. The Additional Curates Society has an excellent one; and there is also Walk with me, produced by Bible Alive. Your local Christian bookshop will also have books on Advent themes.
Last, but by no means least, remember that Advent is a penitential season. This means engaging in a fast – be it of food, drink, or any other aspect of your daily life that captures and twists your self-will. The repeated call in Advent is to “stay awake”: it is a time for a renewed effort and vigilance, not a slow slide into the easy luxury of Christmas. It also time to go to Confession. In Advent we are called to remember our mortality and that Christ will come to be our Judge. The end of all things is brought before us in the great themes of Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgement. It is a time to remember that Bethlehem is the beginning, and in the season of Advent we are brought heart to heart with our end that will have no end. Surely that is worth some thought and prayer?
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House