Editorial: Counting down the days to Advent
I have realised, to my surprise, that these days I prefer the first day of Advent to Christmas Day. Growing up in a non-liturgical family (‘Liturgy is fossilised worship!’), Advent passed us by, apart from its calendar. I was in my 30s before I learned that Advent doesn’t start on 1 December.
I’ve always liked to keep things like mince pies and mulled wine until December though. So these days, after several weeks of walking abstemiously past them in the supermarket, I have them ready for Advent Sunday. At church we sing, I hope, ‘O come, O come, Immanuel’, one of the best tunes, and light the first candle. Then at home the seasonal playlist goes on, the decorations go up, the mince pies and mulled wine go in. Your seasonal rules and rites may vary, but for me that’s the perfect way to embrace the ever darkening days.
On Christmas Day, the surprise is that I find myself much less interested in presents than I used to be. I’ve reached the age where most gifts, present company excepted, seem to be either clutter or empty calories. Perhaps we might find a way of giving each other gifts that isn’t about consumption. In a word: humbug!
I suppose this is all something to do with what Wordsworth said about setting ‘the budding rose above the rose full blown’. Advent has become so full of Christmas that by Christmas Day it’s a bit old; on Advent Sunday we still have it all to look forward to.
It also comes back to my age, which is young enough to hope for plenty more years, but old enough to be surrounded by constant intimations of mortality. Years pass as well as months, and on both scales the days start to shorten and the darkness starts to gather.
Our tradition does not encourage us to deny or ignore this fact of life. It encourages us to see our impermanence in the impermanence of the year, and then, on an evergreen bough, to light a candle of hope that there is something more coming than darkness and decay.
I do love, at the Christmas service, to belt out all those great Wesley lines. ‘Light and life to all he brings,/Risen with healing in his wings.’ But I also find myself thinking: ‘Still some way to go on that.’ Even Christmas is its own Advent. It leaves us looking forward to the real thing, to the fullness of the promise. Yes, hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace, but still, ‘O come’; still ‘Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.’
Advent Sunday encapsulates all that for me. So here I am, counting down the days to Advent.
This article was published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform