Advent is not just a time of waiting for Christmas, it is a time of preparation so we can be ready in our hearts and minds and spirits to celebrate the coming of God as a human being into our world.
But we are not good at waiting! The people of Sudan and Uganda are much better at waiting than we are in this part of the world. That is perhaps because there is much waiting to be done there!
It’s not a joyless waiting, in spite of the difficulties. Singing and dancing, smiling and laughter, coming together to celebrate and share food, are all things that come naturally to the Ugandans and Sudanese whom I know. For all our plenty we celebrate a lot less and complain a lot more!
For those who have the resources here, almost everything can be had immediately, next day delivery. Christmas can be the culmination of a period of indulgence rather than abstinence.
Any yet, like it or not, understand it or not, the world is waiting, waiting, waiting for an end to darkness and chaos. It waited a very long time for Jesus to come the first time. We’ve only waited 2,000 years so far for Jesus to come back. But he will. God is making us wait for the new heavens and the new earth. Advent is a time to remember that all of creation is waiting, with a hope that is steadfast and certain. And a time to remember (and reach out to help) those whose waiting is particularly dark and painful.
Amidst our plenty there is still real poverty, isolation and mental torment right on our doorstep. We reflect on these things NOT to limit our joy or our celebration, but to make it more real and expand it to include more people. We offer back to God our time and our prayers and our money so more people can know they are blessed this Christmas.
In Advent, we do a lot of publicity about Christmas services and events. It’s amazing how much publicity (not ours obviously!) either omits basic details (such as the time of an event) or makes them hard to read because they are too small or the poster is cluttered or the words blend in with the background.
At our recent Prayer Day Bishop Helen-Ann of Ripon reminded us that from ancient times Jewish scholars have described scripture as written with BLACK fire and WHITE fire. The BLACK fire is the actual words on the page or scroll written in black ink. The WHITE fire is the spaces behind and in between which give a context, a background against which the words are read and understood.
There’s much to be reflected on in this analogy, but one thought came strongly to me at the Advent Day of Prayer. We, individually and together, are the background against which the ‘Word made flesh’ Jesus Christ is seen in our town.
So at Christmas many people hear the reading of scripture, see nativity plays and join in the singing of carols. Through this they may see Jesus. They do that in a context, against a background. We are that background. Does who we are help people to see Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas? Or do we distract from the main message by not framing the word clearly. Maybe we put in too many other words and they distract from the Word himself.
The BLACK letters of scripture stand out because they are clear against a WHITE background. To be this kind of background we need to “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light”(from the Advent Sunday collect). That’s about using some of our waiting time to let God shape and mould us more into the people he wants us to be – more loving, more resistant to the selfish desires that come from without and within.
May we all use the waiting, reflecting time of Advent to be a better background against which Jesus can be seen!
And when it does come, have a wonder-filled Christmas!