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. The candles that will be lit at the beginning of the service each week have a significance which adds to the totality of the story.
Increasingly, we see references to 'Xmas' rather than 'Christmas' – one commentator made the following observations,
"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... Have we built a straight highway into our hearts for Christ's coming? Are we prepared internally to properly celebrate the birth of the Messiah into our world?
The Bible tells us that the unborn John recognised the significance of the visit by Mary to his mother, Elizabeth.
"... as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy." (Luke 1:44)
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 the Father of all people, once you accept the fact that Christ died for all people, once you accept the fact that everyone on earth is our brother and our sister, 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 with hunger pangs gnawing at their insides. Jesus came to turn the world right way up.
In the middle of Advent this year, we shall have the privilege of voting in a General Election! How will our decision about which party to vote for be affected by the revolutionary songs that mark the arrival of our Saviour into the world? Or by the teaching of Jesus to the crowds who gathered to hear him speak on a mountainside? 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? May the promptings of the Holy Spirit shape and guide us in the coming weeks so that it may be said of us "they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child..."