Advent: Time to Wake Up!

In this month’s parish magazine, Rector Alan provides a user’s guide to Advent – what to look forward to and what to think about as we prepare for the nativity

It’s the time of year to wake up again, just when we thought we could burrow down for the long winter. I’ve been saying, (after Paul of Tarsus, of course), ‘Now it is high time to awake out of sleep . . . the night is far spent, the day is at hand’ for almost 30 years now. Has anyone been listening? Have I been listening? Never mind. It is never too late. Another Advent. Another chance.

So I invite you to share ADVENT with us at St Giles. We are to wait and watch in true biblical fashion, to sweep away the accumulated debris of the year that is passing, the lazy habits of mind we have acquired, the stale routines we have allowed to dominate us, the taking-for-granted of life and love and God. For these weeks nothing is to matter but the nurturing of our desire for the coming of the Lord, so that when (liturgically) he comes, he will indeed find us watching and waiting, joyful and full of expectation.

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‘Meanwhile,’ I imagine you thinking, ‘in the real world where we have to live, there’s the small matter of the bills to pay and the office party to endure and the presents for the nephews to find and the flight to somewhere very warm or very cold to catch, not to mention all the work to be fitted in first . . .’ and so on. Agreed. Accepted. Therefore I invite you to share Advent with us at St Giles (and anywhere else for that matter) just as much as you can in these weeks before us, so that wherever you may be on the day of Christ’s Nativity itself you will, at least, have spent some time wondering again what it is all about and why it is we remember, and have heard again the chilling and visionary warnings of the prophets, while the carols wash over your days of shopping and mince pies and stockpiling.

 

Advent is easy. There are just four weeks to it: the 1st (Advent Sunday itself, usually at the end of November, so it has already happened), and three other Sundays, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Sundays of Advent, and then the day of the Nativity of Our Lord itself, which this year falls on Sunday as a special blessing to us rectors who ‘only work on Sundays’ (a once-funny and now less-than-funny joke I no longer need to hear). You will certainly hear the voices of the prophets and doom laden they are at times, but also among them the beautiful voice of Isaiah so thoughtfully providing Handel with his libretto to ‘The Messiah’: ‘”Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,”’ saith the Lord,’ and a ‘little child’ shall lead the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid and the ragged remnant of the people of Israel. What is more, on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, following previous Sundays of preaching on the letter to the Ephesians and the prophet Jeremiah, I will be reflecting on the place of the BIBLE itself in our life of faith, what it is and how we read it.

Musically there is solemnity (no Gloria) and seriousness, but also hints of a glory anticipated and soon to come. The waiting and expectant carols of Advent can still be heard at the Bell-ringers Advent service (1.30pm on the 1st December), and as far as Sundays go we will do our best to stave off the inevitable intrusion of ‘O little child of Bethlehem’ for as long as we can, by spiritual restraint and by fixing our minds on what used to be called the four last things: death, judgement, hell and heaven; though I am not sure what the four last things might be for many people today: a good pension, freedom from sickness, a sound mind and a pain-free departure, perhaps? But we are not to meet with our legal executor but with our gracious Saviour, and they are very different.