It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I am, as every year, trying to make the point that as a church we are still in the season of Advent. The only trouble is, by this stage of the season, we are already singing Christmas carols and watching nativity plays and I can understand why. We are looking forward with eager anticipation to the day when we celebrate our Saviour’s birth and we want to rehearse the story through song and word and worship.
But it is also really important we still remember the significance of Advent. To the wider world, Advent has simply become the yearly countdown, an excuse (depending on your age) to eat chocolate and/or drink gin each day, as you tear open the flap of a calendar. And as a church, we can all too easily follow the world’s lead. Advent and its themes of waiting and preparation sit uneasily with the festivities all around us, and it is tempting sometimes to ditch Advent altogether.
Yet we need to bear in mind that throughout the year we are called to live as Advent people. What do I mean by this? Well, the carol is surely right to declare that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him tonight.” Through the first coming of Jesus we are born into a living hope. We find relief for our fears through a new relationship with God our Heavenly Father. And through the work of the Holy Spirit we are adopted as His children into the body of Christ, the church.
However even as we tell this Christmas story, we have to remind ourselves that the birth of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story. We can’t simply walk away from the nativity scene as if the visit of the wise men somehow finishes off the tale. Rather the birth of Jesus Christ should point us forward to the time when Jesus will come again, not as a weak and tiny baby, but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, when every eye will see Him and every tongue confess.
And our role as believers is to watch and wait for that time. Time after time Jesus warns His followers to be ready. He tells parables about kings returning to servants unprepared, about virgins running out of oil, about banquets and those excluded about the feast. These aren’t seasonal stories. They are descriptions of how we are meant to live at any time of the year, always being ready to give an account to the one who is judge of the living and the dead.
How we actually live is a different matter, unfortunately. We can so easily get distracted by the things of this world, or become tired of waiting for the Lord. The Israelites of old who received the promises about the first coming of Christ all too often turned away to other gods, instead of persevering in faithful expectation. Their example is surely a warning and a lesson to us, not to get diverted, but to anchor our daily lives in a routine of prayer, of Bible reading and daily worship.
So even as we sing along to the old familiar carols and watch all those lovely nativity plays, let’s not get seduced into thinking Christmas is the end of the story. Rather, in the words of the apostle Peter, let’s live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed His coming. (2 Pet 3:11-12). Let’s remain Advent people throughout the year, and let’s keep watch and pray, no matter what the season.