It’s not often (well one year in seven, on average), that December 1st falls on a Sunday and the church’s preparation for Christmas begins on the same day that the first door on the Advent calendars are opened.
Traditionally in the church, Advent Sunday signalled the start of a period of prayer and fasting in preparation for the celebration of Christmas. I have to say that I don’t see a great deal of fasting in December these days.
Today Christmas preparations start well before Advent Sunday and usually begin with the unveiling of the John Lewis Christmas advert. Then there is more focus on Black Friday than on Advent Sunday, although thankfully the craziness we saw a few years ago around Black Friday seems to have subsided a little. I enjoy the Christmas adverts but the grumpy old man in me does sometimes shout at the television if I think they’re on too early in the year!
Advent calendars have changed as well. When I was a child, I would open the cardboard door each day to reveal a picture from the Christmas story and a verse of scripture. Now, an Advent Calendar is considered a huge disappointment if it doesn’t contain chocolate (or beauty products or gin!). To be honest, I think these are all great fun. We just need to be sure that they sit alongside, rather than replace, an Advent that prepares us to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
So how can we use Advent well? Can we recapture something of that original purpose of spiritual preparation? How about setting aside ten minutes each day of Advent to sit quietly. This might be a time to pray or maybe just to recharge the batteries.
Another traditional way of marking Advent is with acts of generosity. When we do this, we draw nearer to the God who gives himself in generosity. Advent generosity is not about buying even more expensive gifts for our friends and family. It may be a simple act of kindness to a neighbour in need, or a small gift to someone we don’t know.
At Christ Church we will once more collect gifts for families and young people who are supported by The Roberts Centre and All Saints Hostel. If you can donate a small gift of a toy or toiletries, then please bring it to the church on or before Sunday 8th December. Note that the church is not always open, so you may wish to call the Vicarage to check.
As John Bunyan, the 17th century writer and preacher best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress, once said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
Or more recently, the Bishop of St Albans, The Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, has said, “This spirit of generosity sets us free from our self-absorption and allows us to grow into the people that God created us to be.”
May your Advent be marked with peace and generosity.
Revd Andy Wilson
Vicar, Christ Church Portsdown
Priest-in-Charge, St John the Baptist Purbrook
Curate, Church of the Good Shepherd Crookhorn
Chaplain, Havant & Waterlooville FC