Christmas is fast approaching, and there’s so much to do: presents to purchase and wrap, cards to be written, friends to be visited, dates to be put in the diary, holidays to sort, children’s performances to watch, and did we remember to order the turkey this year? This time of year it always seems like we are hurtling faster and faster towards the season of goodwill, and we are cheered on by one ad after another encouraging us to do more, spend more, give more.
But next week marks the beginning of the season of Advent. Next Sunday is not the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It is the first Sunday of Advent. We are entering a distinct season of the church year which is about far more than counting down the days, or having a little calendar with doors that open and give you a high-calorie goodie. And as Christians I believe we should reclaim this season, and mark out it out as a special time in our lives. Why? Let me give you six good reasons:
ANTICIPATION – A time to ask ourselves what we are really looking forward to. Is our horizon just another festival of feasting with friends and family, or are we eagerly awaiting the Lord’s return? Or to put it another way, if someone were to ask us about our faith, could we give a reason for the hope within us (1 Pet 3:15)?
DISCIPLINE – For many people Christmas is the busiest time of the year. There is just so much to do, and so few hours in the day. So do we have the discipline to step aside and make time and space to be with Jesus? After all, if we are as busy and distracted as the next person, what does it say about our faith?
VOCATION – Think about the people we meet in the months before the birth of Jesus – Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary. All of them were ordinary people called by God for a special purpose. They all had questions and all had to learn real lessons of trust and obedience. But God nonetheless called each one by name – just as God calls each one of us by name. So make time to think: what is your calling (or “vocation”) as a servant of the Lord? Is there some ministry or task God is calling you to? And if so, how will you respond?
ENCOURAGEMENT – Sadly for so many people this season is one of loneliness, pain and disappointment, even if they may try and hide their feelings behind a mask of festive jollity. How can we be effective in sharing the good news of a coming Saviour? Do we have the eyes to see those around us as the Lord sees them and the grace to share the love of Christ?
NEW LIFE – This is the time of year when the days are at their shortest. People will pause and look back on the 12 months that have past, as our calendars tell us 2013 is drawing to a close. But Advent is the start of the new Church Year, and rightly so. It’s a reminder that the light of Christ breaks even into the darkest season. Think of the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, or from exile in Babylon. Think about the message of the angel to Mary against the backdrop of religious corruption and Roman occupation.
THANKSGIVING – Need I say more? Yet in the stress and business of Christmas preparations tempers so often fray. That present doesn’t arrive, family change their plans at the last minute, a bug ruins our celebrations, the boss wants us to work overtime. Let’s take time to say with Zechariah: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people (Luke 1:68) and let’s look forward to when our salvation will be complete.