December 2011: Advent - a time of preparation

In the weeks before Christmas, we have special tasks to do. Have we found presents for everyone? Have we sent our cards in time? Will we go to a carol service, and if so one in a church, or a ‘secular’ one run by the local council? Whose turn is it to get the family together, and to put on the traditional meal?

But there is another thing we need to do, one that is often forgotten.

Christmas is the traditional time of celebration of Christ’s birth. Yet we don’t actually know what date Jesus was born on - December 25th is just the date we have always used (well, ever since the 4th century, it seems). So Christmas is symbolic; Jesus was born, so we celebrate it. But what is there to celebrate? It seems to me that a ‘secular’ carols event celebrates the celebration for its own sake. It’s a bit like being famous for being famous, and it misses the real point.

Oh, there’s Santa, of course - but Santa as we know him is a modern marketing phenomenon, and perhaps that’s why the secular Christmas survives - people do spend money, so other people go after that money, and everybody makes a fuss about the fuss again. I heard someone on the radio saying that Christmas this year should be more successful, because people have more money to spend this time. No, that’s missed the point too.

Let’s look deeper, if too briefly. Jesus came and changed the world. Whether you really believe in his claims and the stories about him or not, you can’t deny that. What Jesus did led to other doing things differently - not always for the better, of course, human nature being what it is - but Jesus changed the world, and for most people it was for the better, as it is now, in spite of what the scandal-seeking media would have you believe. Christmas, in the middle of the northern winter, marks a change for the better - better weather, and better lives, because of what Jesus went on to do. And so, the day became holy - a holiday - celebrating the forgiveness and love of God in Jesus. Peace and goodwill to all men, and all that.

Birth ultimately prepares for death, and Christmas anticipates the crucifixion of an innocent man. The change in the world was brought about through real suffering, taking on all the consequences of evil in the world, and real death. It was a death that in ways we do not really understand brings forgiveness for the wrongs we have done. Through his resurrection in victory over evil Jesus now invites us to be part of the continuing change in the world too. He takes our suffering and makes something new of it. He tells us that we are cared for, that we matter, in ways we never knew; and he tells us that there is hope and purpose for our lives. This is worth celebrating indeed! And so at Christmas we give thanks for Jesus’ coming as a baby, wrapping it up with stories of angels and a bunch of wise men from the east.

But Advent is not yet Christmas, and so I come back to my point, the thing we have forgotten. In the midst of our preparations for Christmas, the trips to the shops, the presents and cards, have we taken thought of our inner state? Are we ready, are we at least trying to be worthy to greet the baby, or are we busy contributing to the evil that claims his life? Have we prepared ourselves inwardly to remember the coming of one who will be our King?

Advent is the time of being ready, deep down, watching and waiting for the coming of the King - the King whose death undoes all that is wrong in our lives, if we will allow it. Are we ready?

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.