Liturgically speaking, the year began on November 27th. The kinds of clergy who wear robes to work wore violet or blue ones. They marked the four weeks that were to follow as a time of preparation for the advent – the coming – of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This year, I have been marking the season with an advent calendar. As a child my favourite advent calendars were the Mars ones because they had a specially-big chocolate on a couple of days throughout December including my birthday. That was only my favourite advent calendar as a child because I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a Lego advent calendar. Mars, shmars. Lego’s where it’s at.
Every day, as I have reflected on the pending return of the Lord Jesus Christ and prepared my heart for his coming, I have opened a window of my advent calendar and assembled a figure to add to my Christmas scene. This was a slow burner at first: it was all singing firefighters and helicopters. It felt like something was missing. My patience was rewarded, however. In the final few days the scene gained a Christmas tree, a sleigh, and finally Santa himself.
Two things struck me as I did this. Firstly, that I spent a month anticipating the advent of a Lego Santa more than that of my Lord and Saviour. Secondly, that I had more to say to my friends about the daily photos of my Lego scene than I did about the coming of Christ. Which is a worry. Because I’m meant to be a minister of the gospel of grace.
I was warned about this, of course. Back at the beginning of advent itself, I heard an excellent song by Miriam Jones that rails against the commercial takeover of what was once a sacred time of deep spiritual significance. It’s called Wondrous, Mysterious and begins like this:
I turned on the TV and it
suddenly was Christmas
and I hollered at the advert
that they wouldn’t get my money
and I could not believe they honestly
were trying to take my heart for Christmas
The airwaves jammed with snowmen
and with Santa Claus and angels
and I do believe in angels
but not the kind that do not scare you
and I prayed some kind of holy fear
would find its way to me this Christmas
‘Cause my heart is dying to prepare
for something wondrous and mysterious
This world is ringing in my ears
and it’s thunderous and delirious
Yes, there’s fun to be had at Christmas. Yes, there’s a chance to relax and to reject responsibility and to revert back to childish entertainment. Yes, it doesn’t all always need to be boring and stuffy and serious. But by passing on the opportunity to stop to think about advent properly, I fear I haven’t prepared my heart for something “wondrous and mysterious” as well as I might.
The closest I’ve come to doing deep advent-work in my heart has been through the Collects of the Book of Common Prayer. My commitment to Daily Prayer may not have been as robust and regular as it might have been, but even so I could not escape the persistent message of the season: be prepared.
The theme is summed up nicely in these words, which are to be said daily from the start of Advent to the end, on Christmas Eve:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
I did a bit of this sort of thing this Advent. I know there is more to learn. So perhaps next year, which begins on 3rd December, I will let the season of Advent shape me more fully. And perhaps, in so doing, my heart will be dying to prepare for something wondrous and mysterious.