In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Christmas is coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We know it’s coming because the lights are already up, the trees are in, and because five doors on the advent calendar have been opened, and the chocolate quickly consumed.
We know it’s coming because the prophets of anxiety are predicting a difficult time for the shoppers and retailers of our over-stretched, debt-ridden land. We feel the imminence of Christmas in the mincemeat sensations of excitement and dread; of wishing it would never end and wanting it over with now. Of the need to be at home – with family and friends – and the desire to escape it all and get as far away as possible.
As the Grinch – in Dr Seuss’ story – says: ‘Christmas! It’s practically here!’ …Then he growled with his fingers nervously drumming, ‘I must find a way to keep Christmas from coming!’
Advent means the arrival – or coming – of an important person or thing. But break it down into its compound words: ‘ad’ and ‘vent’ and it looks alarmingly like something to do with advertising and windows – it sounds like a big commercial wind. Which of course it is. And has been, and probably always will be. Which is why Grinch-like, seasonal rants about the commercial aspect of Christmas will do nothing to change it.
It’s easy to see that Christmas really ‘doesn’t come from a store’ – easy to guess that ‘it means a little bit more’. In our seasonal preparations, we can mask the awe-inspiring idea that the omnipotent and all-powerful God, the creator of the universe and the source of all being should choose to come down and be one like us. Not a chocolate box image or a commercial enterprise, but a man. A man who would experience the vulnerability of human kind: homeless, forced to flee to another country for his life, to face hunger and privation and ultimately to be condemned and to die.
Advent is therefore a time of expectancy, a time for watching for the dawn to break from on high. A time when the world’s need for Christ becomes clear. Amid our anxieties of debt and society, the need for a saviour has never been more expectant.
Isaiah, a prophet who lived long before Christ, framed our need in this way: ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.’ There was an ache for a saviour long before one appeared. As to what this saviour is for – Isaiah put it in these startling terms: ‘for those living in darkness, a light has come,’ and later ‘he will be pierced for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed.’
For Isaiah it took 600 years and a thousand advent calendar windows before the double doors opened on the baby in the manger he predicted would be ‘the saviour of the world.’ That’s a kind of patience – a kind of expectation and waiting – that’s hard to grasp. In theory, for us, the waiting is over. The baby – whether we like it or not – is here – Immanuel or God with us.
As the Grinch discovered, we can’t stop Christmas from coming, as Dr Seuss said ‘Somehow or other, it came just the same!’
The challenge for us this advent is finding the space to think about why it came at all in the first place. As we sing hymns of great portent, and hear the promise of Scripture, we have the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of the incarnation, the challenge of the birth of God on earth, the implications of the coming of the Messiah.
The cry for action, for justice, for mission to communities where the name of Christ is barely known is real for all of us, and as we turn to the horizon to see the unstoppable dawn, we know that in our midst, the Lord Jesus, our God, is already here.