November 27th marks the beginning of a new Church Year. The four weeks of Advent are a vital part of the preparation period before we celebrate again the coming of God into the world in human form in the infant Jesus. A celebration that will continue through the month of January up to the feast of Candlemas, which was the day that all the Church's candles for the year were blessed. The candles that will be lit at the beginning of the service each week during Advent have a significance which adds to the totality of the story, reminding us of the main characters of the unfolding Christmas story – the people of God, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary.
If you are currently watching the FIFA World Cup coverage from Qatar, I am sure that you will already have heard fans of the English national team singing that "It's coming home...". (Other national teams are available...!) I admire their optimism, but I think we probably have to wait a little longer to see if the confidence is justified or not. One thing I can share with confidence is that, should you wish it to, the celebration of Christmas can come to your home this year. This has nothing to do with how lavish a celebration and how many presents you feel able to afford in these difficult times.
It has everything to do with spelling and the meaning of the season. In so many places, we see references to 'Xmas' rather than 'Christmas' about which one commentator has made the following observation,
"When people use Xmas, they really mean Xhaustion, Xcuses, Xchanges, Xcesses, Xtravagances, Xasperations, Xhibitions, and worldly Xcitement."
By leaving 'Christ' in Christmas, we have a different focus for our festivities. John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, spoke of a road being prepared in the wilderness, of mountains being flattened, of valleys being raised up and of crooked roads being made straight. In some ways, the questions remain for us to consider in our preparations... What significance does the season of Christmas hold for us? Is it more than a time to "eat, drink and be merry"? Have we built a straight highway into our hearts for Christ's coming? Are we prepared internally to remember the birth of the Messiah into our world and the challenge to the status quo that this brought?
The road to be taken by Jesus in his public ministry was set out in the song that Mary sang following that encounter – the Magnificat. It is a song that speaks of turning the world right way up, of bringing in a kingdom where the watchwords are justice and peace. It is a song that makes demands of us and all people of faith. The message of the song was revolutionary, and it was echoed by the song of the angels. For once you accept that God is Love, that God cares about the wellbeing of every human on the planet, that Christ died for all people not just the ones we like or who do things "our way", it becomes impossible to justify the oppression of one people by another. It becomes impossible to justify that some would live in absolute luxury while others go to bed each night worrying about food and heat, sanitation and freedom. Jesus came to turn the world right way up.
How will our preparations and celebrations reflect that truth to those with whom we share the season? What will differentiate 'Christmas' from 'Xmas' for us? Will you welcome the Christmas message of hope and love into your home?
I wish you a peaceful Christmas and a hopeful New Year,