Advent comes sneaking up, often with surprising speed, catching us unaware and unprepared. It can’t be Advent already? In the four short weeks that remain we are expected to make time and space to prepare our lives for God’s in-dwelling. All this while everyone, everywhere, wants to break out the carols to accompany the dizzying whirl of parties that precede Christmas, but is that the only reason for Christmas for many?
In the northern hemisphere Christmas comes ‘in the bleak midwinter’- no wonder we want to party! At a deeper level this is the time when the earth lies fallow and we dwell in the expectance of the new life we hope the Spring will bring – does this influence the way we observe Advent as a season of waiting, watching and wondering?
Shops have been displaying Christmas goodies and decorations since September and playing carols since Halloween and many of us have been shopping for months. We come to church to experience Advent worship, but if we come expecting more of what our culture offers we are in for a rude awakening. No shining star, no weary young mother, no baby Jesus, no inquisitive shepherds and no singing angels!
Are we both disappointed and dismayed by the gospel texts which set a different tone from the cultural Christmas season that surrounds worshippers outside the church?
Advent involves preparing for two things. God coming to earth as the infant Jesus whom we await at Christmas, and Christ returning to earth at a time we do not know. With this second Advent it is not a matter of if but when, and Jesus wants us to be ready. We do so, he says, by keeping alert, constantly preparing and putting our hope in our loving God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.
Matthew reminds us that it is very easy to live as though our world is real and secure, as though there is no need to be watchful, or poised for action. Jesus has some strong words for us in Mathew 24/25 - especially when he paints the picture for us of the 10 foolish girls caught unprepared with no oil for their lamps and who got shut out from the wedding banquet. They were, after all, just innocently going about their lives, turning their backs at just the wrong moment. It could be any of us, Matthew points out.
Advent is the point in the Christian year when we stand between two worlds, a time of preparing to chooses again. Which world will we will we choose? Will it be the world of the newly born child where so many of our most dearly held ideas about God and ourselves will be challenged? Or will we choose the world where there is no life, no birth but at least there is no challenge!
Choosing between worlds is not easy. It needs to be prepared for and imagined over and over again.
When this child is born will it be a shock of anguish or joy?