Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’
Today we begin Advent; the Advent wreath takes pride of place in our churches, perhaps in our homes, and we light the first of five candles. We face the beginning of a journey; the need for preparation; the countdown begins. But to where and to what?
I shall warn you that this will indeed start with a rant against the monster that is Christmas commercialism.
While churches open their doors with services of reconciliation and reflection, we are caught by the guile and come hither entreaty of the shop window. Every late shopping night, Saturdays and Sundays, we are there. And not only there, these days, but on-line. The countdown is repeated in every media, tv, papers, posters; like a warning of the Apocalypse 'Buy now! Spend now! This Christmas's must-have! Show them you love them!'
'Show them you love them?'
By driving yourself, your bank balance, even your sanity into the ground?
For one day?
For one day, when, in the main - I am excluding children here (but just look at how much some of them get) - we give and receive presents that we could all well do without. We fill the bin with wrapping paper that could have saved the rain forest, we eat (and waste) food that could feed the starving millions and ther next day we are worrying about how we are going to pay it all off before we start again.
Along the way we may have got to a Carol Service, and maybe Midnight Mass, and bemoaned the fact that there wasn't much Christmas Spirit. And really who's to blame for that?
The Church gave us Advent to prepare - think back to our other time of preparation - Lent.
Lent is longer than Advent, yet I know people, non-churchgoers, even non-Christians who take up a Lenten challenge. I know people who make real efforts to do something for charity, who try to find out a bit more about their faith. And doing this they enter Holy Week prepared for a week of Church drama - if you really get into it you can follow those last few day with all the mystery and trepidation of the first disciples.
Why not Christmas? Is the birth less important than the death? There's a theological debate for you. But isn't it easier to imagine the eager awaiting of new baby into the family. We all know people who have tried years or had other problems and shared that 'one day at a time' pace of waiting. We've all sat up into the night waiting for a phone call that may or may not bring good news.
Imagine Mary and Joseph, secure in their own belief, yet having to face the gossip and stares of the local community; imagine them discussing the future - maybe already making plans to move away to somewhere they would not be known; imagine the trepidation of the journey to Bethlehem, so far along in the pregnancy. The last four weeks of a pregnancy, uncomfortable, restless, tired, wanting it to be over but worrying that everything will go alright. This is how we should spend Advent because, like Easter, this is a God time event, this is relived every year. And the more we participate; make the effort; take the time; the more it will impact on our hearts and our spirit.
And I am not saying stop shopping; I'm really not that much of a Scrooge, but just as the shops manage to find those extra hours for 'late nights' please try to find some time for prayer, reflection, contemplation on what is really going on. Join your church community at an Advent service or scripture meeting. It won't cost you anything and it may just mean everything.