Advent Blog 2023

Advent Reflection by Kathryn Elsmore, Ordinand.

When you hear the word ‘advent’, what do you think?

For some people, it means that Christmas is nearly here, and they can start to count down. Others hear the word ‘advent’ and can only think of everything that they need to do in the leadup to Christmas, sometimes with a sense of dread. For me, I do like the season of Advent, in part because I love being with people. I love meeting up in small groups and sharing food. I enjoy watching children in nativity plays and joining carol services in different places. When I’m home, I especially love listening to Classic FM with its Christmas choral music. I also try to seek God and what he is revealing to me anew through this season of preparation.

Advent is the time in the church’s year for preparing for the birth of Jesus. It is a time to prepare, reflect, and repent[1]. Advent means ‘coming’ or ‘arriving’, it’s remembering the first arrival of Jesus as we look to the ‘second coming’ of our King[2].

We decorate and change the church during Advent. The Altar cloths are changed to purple, a royal colour fit for a King. We have the Christmas tree, candles and flowers. At the front, we have the Advent Wreath where we light a candle each Sunday. The wreath is made of evergreens, to symbolise living forever; the circle of the wreath has no beginning and no end, to show the eternity of God. The first four candles are lit each Sunday and represent hope, faith, joy and peace. The last candle to be lit – usually at our midnight service – represents Jesus, our saviour and light of the world.

What I do not like about Advent, is the commercial rush and shopping spree, that we should spend lots of money on pure indulgence. We can feel pressured into buying children an array of expensive toys and gadgets, that will soon be broken, out of date, or discarded. We can be made to feel that we need an expensive tree with luxury decorations, a selection of Christmas clothes including Christmas jumpers where the whole family and even the dog match, (the last is fine, if that’s what you want!). As for food and drink, the shops only shut for one or two days (it really should be two), and people buy far more than what they and their family or friends can possibly eat.

Can I encourage you this Advent to spend time seeking God, in preparation for the birth of our Lord, Jesus? There are various resources that can guide you. Tom Wright has written three different Advent books; I have ‘Advent for everyone: a journey through Matthew’. The Church of England also produces a resource with reflections, which will be available online for Advent.

One study guide has reminded me that the first Christmas was bleak and had a harsh reality that we fail to recognise as we celebrate Christmas in the Western world[3]. There was travelling a difficult journey, to Bethlehem, which resonates with our journey as we walk with Jesus. The feeling of exclusion was real as they struggled to find anywhere for Mary to give birth. There was certainly no mention of a palace suitable for the future King. Christmas in our contemporary culture is so different from our understanding of the Christmas reality told in the Bible.

Of course, for some Christmas is a time where they remember loved ones that should have been here. Some this Christmas will have no money for even the basics, and perhaps nowhere to call home. For some, their loved ones may be away, such as in Ukraine, fighting the war, whilst the rest of the family are staying in safety, abroad. We need to remember that Christmas is not a happy time for everyone, and some may feel isolated and lonely.

I like Tom Wright’s analogy of a wheel going around in circles[4]. Think of a wheel attached to a bike, the wheel goes round and round but at the same time, the bike moves forward, it is not simply going round in circles with Christmas coming once a year. It is moving forward according to God’s plan for the whole of creation, as we travel from the first advent to the second coming, where God’s plan will be fulfilled.

As Tom Wright puts it, we are ‘Advent people: people of light in a dark world, people of hope in times of despair. People who follow Jesus’[5].

[1] John Sentamu, Foreword in Tom Wright, Advent for Everyone: A Journey through Matthew, (SPCK, 2016, p. vii).

[2] Tom Wright, Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew, (SPCK, 2016, p. ix).

[3] Stephen Burns, Liturgy (2nd ed), (SCM, 2018, p. 157).

[4] Tom Wright, Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew, (SPCK, 2016, p. ix).

[5] Tom Wright, Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew, (SPCK, 2016, p. xi).