Advent is finally upon us: happy New Year! Our church calendar begins afresh looking ahead to the birth of Jesus.
It looks to me as if the whole country has stepped up a gear and is getting ready for the Big Day. These days it seems to be all about buying the right things – cards, presents, food and decorations – for that perfect family Christmas. The adverts with their huge budgets are out – are you a fan of the M&S one, or the John Lewis one? I have to say I like the Amazon one with the Vicar and the Imam (but no, I don’t need any knee pads thank you!).
Advent is a much overlooked season of the Church year. It’s a time to reflect on Jesus’ first coming and look forward to his second. But we can be so busy buying this and making that – so much so that when the day itself arrives, we’re often exhausted from all the effort and our careful plans dissolve into chaos.
Of course we all want to be ready for Christmas Day, and even Curates have to find the time to buy that perfect present for their other half! But this Advent, I’d like to encourage us to prepare better for Christmas by focusing less on ourselves and more on other people.
There are two initiatives I’d like to share with you that can help us do this.
Firstly, the Bible Society has launched its digital #AdventChallenge campaign. They say:
“Hope, love, joy and peace are the very heart of Advent. Yet they can be overlooked and lost in the mad dash towards Christmas.
#AdventChallenge helps you and your church connect with God in fresh and exciting ways – challenging you to do an act of kindness every day of Advent. It’s a simple way to reach out to your friends and neighbours.
Just think of the impact you could have on your community if everyone in your church got involved…
Throughout Advent, we’ll set you daily challenges to bring the Bible to life and show God’s love in very practical ways. We hope it will also help you and your church rediscover Advent as a precious time to draw close to God and celebrate Jesus’ birth.”
If you do use the internet, you can find the page and sign up for daily emails by searching for ‘advent challenge’ on a search engine.
But many people don’t use the internet: so here’s how you can get involved too – the challenge is the same: undertake a small, practical act of kindness every day. This could be as simple as smiling at someone on the bus, or buying your neighbour some flowers. It doesn’t have to cost anything except your time.
The second way we can focus on others is by supporting the Rainbow Centre. As I write it’s raining, windy and very cold. The cost of simply staying warm means that perfect family Christmas with presents and a large meal is out of reach for many in our community. But we can help. The weekly donation boxes at the back of church are always brimming over with gifts of food. This Advent, let’s help other families have a Christmas to remember by donating festive food, treats and presents. There are often buy-one-get-one-free offers on at this time of year: instead of keeping the free one, why not donate it? Like the rest of us, the Centre finds it hard to get suitable gifts for teenage boys, but gifts for all ages are welcome – you needn’t wrap them.
We all have family rituals around the Christmas season. Perhaps you were gathered as a family making Christmas puddings on Stir Up Sunday, or are looking forward to dressing the tree or putting out carrots for the reindeer on Christmas Eve, or coming to church as a family on Christmas Morning.
When I was teaching Christmas didn’t properly begin for me until Christmas Eve at 3pm when I’d be in the kitchen baking and listening to Carols from King’s. These days it’s a little different and not as relaxing, though I still love it. The brightness and colours of the lights and the joy of the music are such a fitting way to welcome anew our King into the world.
And then of course there are the New Year celebrations. I’m likely to be tucked up in bed well before midnight, though I do wonder why as the fireworks will no doubt let me know when 2017 arrives. New beginnings can be really exciting, and we know that 2017 will bring with it a new Vicar for the Parish, and new opportunities to serve our King as we minister his love through our worship, welcome and acts of kindness to each other throughout the year.
However you celebrate Christmas and the New Year, I extend every blessing to you and your family for the year ahead. None of us really knows what the New Year will bring, but we know we can trust the One who walks alongside us every step of the way.