Advent is here and Christmas is just around the corner. Our shops have been displaying Christmas merchandise and promotions for what seems like ages. Carols and Christmas songs have been playing over the instore Muzak systems, children have been preparing for nativity performances, and parent and grandparents have been stocking up on the perfect Christmas gifts for months. If it weren’t for the accuracy of our calendars, we’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had already arrived. The church doesn’t help either – we’re advertising our Christmas services on the next page! We also make the mistake of talking about Advent and Christmas in the same breath – look again for a good example on the next page. But here’s the rub – Advent, although connected, is not actually the lead up to Christmas, Christmas is the lead up to Advent. When Advent is done well the Church invites the world to consider its pain and sorrow – with one finger pointing toward Jesus as the peacemaker and judge. As I’m sure many will know Advent is about when the world is finally put right, when Jesus will come again as Judge to fulfil what he has already begun, to bring justice, fairness, equality, peace and a new life for all.
Advent and Christmas nowadays feels rather marketed. And I’ve found myself getting more and more frustrated that the message is lost in amongst the sentimental and contrived TV ads and well-dressed garden centres. Now before you say – oh come on Jeremy get with the Christmas Spirit! I do.. I really do. Like many of us, I get caught up in the whole wonderful delight of the Christmas season. I love the music, the John Lewis and M&S adverts, I love driving passed houses lit up with a thousand Christmas lights, and seeing the lights come on in Boscawen Street. It is marvellous. But there is always a part of me that keeps in mind what Christmas, and for that matter, what Advent is really about… it is about the broken-hearted, the rejected, the forgotten, the lonely, the refugee, the poor, the homeless, the mourning, and the persecuted – all of these are represented in the person of Jesus. Unfortunately, Christmas has become something that only the privilege celebrate, but the story of Christmas and the promise of Advent is a promise for everyone not just a few.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
We celebrate Christmas, and the promise of Advent so that we can look back and look forward to the moment when Jesus crawls into the play pen so the world can know the love of God. I pray that your Advent and Christmas will be filled with joy, love and peace, and that you truly know the love of God. Revd Jeremy Putnam
If you were playing a word association game and someone started with the word ‘Advent’ then it’s likely the next word spoken will be ‘Calendar’. Don’t you just love Advent Calendars? Every day during Advent you get that wonderful sense of journey and anticipation as you open each door, counting down the days. And what’s more, behind each door there’s often a little message about the Christmas story, oh, and of course… a little chocolate treat too. Marvellous!
Advent and Christmas is a time of waiting and a time of promise. It is also a time for gifts. Isn’t it true that the real joy of gifts - given and received - is the wait and the promise? It might be difficult to appreciate a gift when there is no expectation, hope or surprise? At Christmas the Church gets a chance to tell both stories, the one about hope, promise and expectation; as well as the story of fulfilment, joy and new life. The problem however is that the world is not very good at waiting. I suppose we’re good at queuing, but when it comes to the material things in life, we often want to take the waiting out of wanting.
The ‘buy now – pay later’ culture is the new moto of our time and if we’re not careful it can slip into to our faith and spirituality too. My hope is that this Advent will be a time of great hope and anticipation and that the waiting for you will be a time to reflect on the truth of Christmas and Emmanuel, the coming of Jesus.
Whilst there are two stories of Advent, of waiting and wanting, there are also two stories of Christmas. The church looks to tell the story that impresses, captures attention; the story of the Holy Family, the magi, the angels and shepherds. Then there is the story that is rooted in fragility, pain, fear and forgiveness, the story of Herod, the story of a desperate world in need of salvation. The story of a simple refugee family looking for shelter, and of perfect love found in the squalor of a borrowed stable. My job is to tell both stories, but it pains me to say that I think the church all too often shies away from telling the latter. Is the Christmas story really just about the wonder and awe we see displayed in our cards and gift wrapping, or is there more?
Part of the problem might be in the kind of news we are used to seeing. It’s harder to find good news stories nowadays. Reporters look for the dirty, and gritty stories of our time, and rarely give column inches to so called ‘good news’. The unconscious reaction of the church has been to readdress the imbalance by telling the good news story of Christmas but by leaving out the rough and gritty bits. The problem is, this version of Christmas is neither a good ‘news story’ nor ‘The Good News’ story.
Our lives are not neatly packaged; God doesn’t ask for our glittery and polished story, he delights in knowing our whole story and loves us for it. In the same way the world doesn’t need a neatly packed Christmas Story, it needs the messy, gritty, dirty Christmas. The one that reflects the fragility of the world, the one that honours the pain some people feel at Christmas. The one that acknowledges that some of us will be mourning, struggling, homeless and lonely. The truth is that Christmas was always for them, as well as for you and me.
Why not join us in telling the real Christmas story this year, and may God bless you and all who you love. Revd Jeremy Putnam.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.