Happy New Year!
The beginning of a new church year always pre-empts the world around us – perhaps one of the few ways in which the church is ahead of the times! As I wrote here last week, this is important, not least because it positions Advent and Christmas not at the end of an old year but at the beginning of a new one. Let me explain a little further.
Advent is a season of looking forward. Quite obviously it looks forward to Christmas. That’s why we spend much of it shopping, planning, and preparing for the mid-winter festival. For Christians the looking forward has a lot more about it than that, however. The key to understanding it is to recognise that the world as it is won’t do.
Things are not fine. The age-old plagues of war, famine, natural disaster (some of it self-inflicted), injustice, poverty and violence haven’t gone away. We have become so accustomed to being let down by the people who promise to fix things that we are no longer surprised by their failures.
People in my line of work often cause irritation at this time of year when we insist that the season of Advent should not be overlooked by leaping too quickly into Christmas. Yet without Advent, a proper Advent, Christmas makes little sense. It’s like a wedding at which no one ends up married, a lot of money spent on a very big party that celebrates nothing.
Advent is a time to engage deeply with the uncomfortable truth that we need God’s help. The problems of human existence are defiant in the face of the best of human efforts to solve them. The quintessential Advent prayer pre-dates Christianity. The prophet Isaiah wrote ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!’
If we skip that, if we ignore that prayer, we will miss the deepest wonder of Christmas, that God responds to our prayers by doing exactly what we asked, tearing open the heavens and coming down. He comes not as a military leader subduing his enemies, nor as a political genius establishing world government with peace and justice for all, not yet at least. For now he comes as a baby, helpless, dependent.
There will be time to reflect more on all that when Christmas finally arrives. During Advent we look forward to that first coming of Christ but we also pray for and look forward to the second one, when Jesus returns at the end of all things.
So bear with me. Keep Advent faithfully. Reflect on the world’s need of God. Pray for God to tear open the heavens and come down. And when Christmas arrives, it will be all the more miraculous as a result.
May God bless you all,