I have a shocking confession to make, before I became a Curate, I never kept Advent. I know right, how can I be a Priest?
Well as a family we often went to Grandparents, who didn't go to church on Christmas day, yet it wasn't the Anglican church alone which made me appreciate Advent and Christmas (though it certainly helped marrying into an Anglican family). I think there were 3 things:
1. Happy Birthday Lord Jesus- My parents are Christians and Christmas was never about Father Christmas, we celebrated Jesus' birthday. So though we didn't always attend church on Christmas day (This varied depending on where we were) Jesus was always central. We appreciated what we had been given and not just getting. My children are not bothered by Father Christmas, they get excited they enjoy it without having a view of God something like Santa (are you good enough to earn God's favour, does God actually care or he is dispenser of stuff that we want). God is far more generous we get his love and forgiveness which we don't deserve.
2. 12 Days of Christmas- No not 12 days of bargains before Christmas but the 12 days starting on Christmas day. This is something Cath continues to remind our children, it isn't over on Christmas Day, which is good news for them as they live in a vicarage. It involves having family to stay with us and going to see other family, enjoying a break (Subject to weddings and what day Christmas falls on I usually have a week off after the Christmas service is over). Which reminds us that it isn't all about a big meal and presents. God's generosity is bigger than we can imagine, so generous he comes to our world and gives himself.
3. Christmas is for sharing- It was my time at Bangor Community Church. The church I was part of as a student at University. I used to stay around to help with the Christmas meal, we held this at first at Bangor Cathedral, I haven't always been part of this, but this year we are helping with the Christmas meal here at Christ Church. Christmas day service is usually a small gathering, people away at family, or having attended midnight services or Christingles or Crib services on Christmas Eve. Yet for me I have felt a longing to serve on Christmas day (yes the day when I am literally exhausted), can I sit down and enjoy this feasting while others are alone or hungry? I don't have a big enough hall or facilities to feed everyone, but lets give what we can and not what we can't. The good news of Jesus' coming was for sharing, Angels shared it with Shepherds and was Good News of Great Joy! It truly is for sharing, that we can know Peace, with God, with each other and know peace in our own lives.
Advent has become a need for me. Christmas season is a time of countless services, school visits, and visiting. If I don't have advent the time of preparation then when Christmas day arrives I can become resentful, I sit here today with little voice, and low energy. You see Advent reminds me again and again I need to carefully prepare myself, not by buying presents for my nearest and dearest, writing cards (sorry if I missed you out), but by checking my heart and life, am I responding like Mary who said "let it be", Joseph who named the baby Jesus, the shepherds who left flocks (there livelihood, income and purpose in life), the Wise Men who journeyed long (yes they don't arrive till epiphany but there's always one or two of us who are late). When I do check my heart and life I realise how much I am in need of the Saviour born that Christmas morn.
I also spend a lot of time listening to music over Advent and this song spoke to me:
It is the lines:
From seed to SequoiaThe Sequoia is a huge tree many of which are very old, they are strong and seem when you stand below them to stretch to the heavens. Christmas stretches from that first Advent to the final Advent through the cross.
From Bethlehem seed to Calvary Sequoia
For me then Christmas is a great gift, the Son of God come to earth, but one labelled with a cross of love, with a message, yes you can know peace, yes you can know forgiveness, but one day we will meet face to face, be ready.
So this Christmas may I say "Merry Christmas" but also get ready.