Advent – A Time To Reflect And Pray

 1 December 2021 |

May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very thoughtful Christmas and a 2022 full of peace.

The end of November takes us into the new lectionary with the great vision of Advent – four Sundays of reflection and preparation. It is a common complaint amongst ministers that we rush too quickly into Christmas and start our carols far too early in December. For many of us, by rushing ahead, we lose the sense of waiting that this time presents to us. We fail to pause and busy ourselves with all kinds of shopping, decorating and celebrating through December. Instead, perhaps a month of reflection might serve us better and prepare us too. We are expectant; but in today’s world we have become expectant of a great feast and consumer explosions. Should we not be expectant for the birth of Jesus, of a gentle feast which celebrates the incarnate God found in a tiny babe, born in a stable?
What does Christmas mean to the world? How many people aren’t able to celebrate as they struggle to feed themselves and one another, or are gripped by famine, flood or storm. To them Christmas is a bleak and a chilling time. A favourite carol of mine, and one that delights many, is based on Christine Rossetti’s poem, ‘In the bleak mid-winter’, and is sung to a tune by Holst, with an irregular metre, which requires much concentration when singing it, but can reflect an uneasiness and perhaps a sense that everything is slightly off centred in the nativity story. How can we be more in tune with the story of that poor couple, Mary and Joseph, struggling to find shelter and safety, in a harsh world where political leaders are so fearful that they want to kill innocent children. The hymn invites us to share in the “intimate moment of adoration of mother and child” (Companion to Rejoice and Sing, p 199).

What does Christmas mean to you? Are you a ‘bah humbug’ person at Christmas or do you want to skate around, or through, the pain of this time of the year. Some of you will remember last year – when of course Christmas was cancelled! – I joined on Zoom a group of gay men who found Christmas very traumatic. They told stories of loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, homelessness and feelings of abandonment. The experience was both sad, painful and uplifting. It gave Christmas a more authentic spirit and a depth I’ve rarely experienced before.

On December 5th, we hold an annual Tree of Lights service in conjunction with St Catherine’s Hospice, a sacred time for people to think and pray about the important people in their lives who have died. Christmas is especially harsh for them, often remembering times in the past when Christmas with the person who has died was a time of great happiness.

Yes, of course, Christmas is a time of great celebration, a chance to be happy, and a little bit wild; but I ask you all this year through Advent to pray and reflect of that harsh world where the birth of Christ is the light and, just as God gave us the gift of his son, we answer the question in Rossetti’s poem:

What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart
Give him my heart.