I can’t believe that it’s already that time of year once again where we look ahead to Christmas! Services are being planned, calendars organised, gifts bought and Christmas adverts are beginning to appear on TV. But of course, before Christmas arrives in our churches, we first share in the season of Advent.
Advent is a time of watching and waiting, when we reflect on all the rich Old Testament prophecy about Jesus’ arrival, and look ahead to his coming again. When we consider the present darkness of our world, and rejoice in the coming light.
Waiting isn’t a particularly popular thing to do in our world today. We live in a culture of instant gratification, where we expect everything straight away. Why should I wait, queuing in a shop, when I can order virtually anything through Amazon Prime and it will arrive the very next day? Why should I wait to speak to my friend about something important, when I can call them on their mobile or instant message them?
This means that rather than being a peaceful time of waiting, the lead up to Christmas is often busy and stressful. There is so much to do to make it that perfect, joyful occasion we want it to be!
And yet waiting is crucial to the role of the Christian in the world. We are called to sit and wait, finding peace and contentment in a world of busyness and anxiety. How can we do this? Because of our confident hope that God is coming to set all things right. Just as two thousand years ago, the arrival of Jesus — the light of the world — changed the course of human history, so that same light will dawn again on our world of darkness.
This hopeful expectation is echoed in the way the Old Testament prophets offer comfort to God’s people who are in exile, encouraging them not to lose faith, but instead to wait patiently for God to act. All this is trusting that one day we will be able to say, as the prophet Isaiah writes, ‘This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’
As we journey through Advent this year, we can savour those words of hope and comfort which will feature in our readings, our prayers and our hymns. One of my favourites, Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn, is also a prayer:
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
In this way, just like at our Christingle services, where we finish with each person holding their own individual light, we each become like a single candle — flickering but steady, and a source of light and warmth to those around us.
This article appears in the December – January issue of our Ministry Area Magazine, which is available in our churches now.