We’ve just entered the ‘Advent’ season (from the Latin ‘adventus’ – ‘coming’). In this time of expectant waiting & preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming to the world, here are 5 ways to ‘maximise’ Advent:
First, Reflect. Reflect on what we are celebrating at Christmas time. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is also given the name ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God with us’. In the grace of God, he didn’t look at us from afar, but came & genuinely shared in our plight. Not least because he longed to save us. Anselm of Canterbury wrestled with the weight of our sin. Anselm saw that our ‘debt was so great that, while man alone owed it, only God could pay it, so that the same person must be both man & God.’ He argued it was necessary for God to become one of us, if anyone was to be brought back to God. Again, in Anselm’s words about Jesus, ‘the life of this Man was so sublime, so precious, that it can suffice to pay what is owing for the sins of the whole world, & infinitely more.’ Take time to reflect on the wonder the Creator would become creation. Don’t simply rely on getting to church, but carve out time to re-read a gospel (no need to stop at the birth narrative).
Second, Maintain gratitude. Christmas is a time of pressure. The temptation is then to give in to the sins of grumbling & complaining. Not only does this add to the pressure those round you feel – but it undermines the first point of reflecting the wonder of God becoming one of us. We make the most of Christmas by having our emotions express the truth of what we are remembering.
Third, Express delight. Delight in all of God’s good gifts. We must keep Christmas a ‘Christ-centred’ celebration – but that doesn’t exclude enjoying God’s generosity in creation. Gifts like family, food, friends & Christian fellowship. Make plans to ensure you can have joy at Christmas time as an expression that you understand God’s generosity (even if that means choosing to miss some events).
Fourth, Share Kindness. Knowing Christ became one of us to bring us into his family, it would be inconsistent to take this chance to share His kindness with others. The father of modern Christmas, Charles Dickens, described it as: ‘a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people . . . as if they were fellow-passengers.’ He captures that Christmas – like the gift of Jesus – should primarily be other-person centred. The gifts we normally give are often obligations – given because we know we must. Ask the question: Who are you being generous to as a pure gift? Take advantage of ‘Toys & Tucker’ at church or TEAR’s ‘World’s most useful gift catalogue’ (or similar great organisations). Invite others to share a meal with you.
Fifth, Prepare for Christ’s coming. His second coming. The Book of Common Prayer’s collect for this season recognises that Christ will come again to judge & that we need to be found ready. While Jesus is on the hearts & minds of our society, it is also a great chance to help others be prepared to (whether it is inviting them to our Christmas services, a gentle chat or a relevant book as a gift). Postcard invitations are available with all our Christmas details – making inviting even easier.
Mark Smith | Senior Minister