Not Adverts but Advent

My mother, who is recovering from a broken hip, happily returned home from hospital last weekend, and I was able to spend some time with her. This for me had a most distressing consequence. It meant I had to watch a lot of television, and not only that, but a lot of ITV. There was nothing wrong with the programmes, it was the Christmas adverts, every 15 minutes! This greatly upset my pre-Christmas survival plan, which involves: recording any programme on ITV and fast-forwarding through the breaks; staying out of all shops until December 27; and delegating as many carol services as possible to the curate, (for the sake of his training).

The season of Advent has been replaced by the season of adverts. The retail and advertising sectors more than anyone else have made the festive season seem like a bloated cuckoo squatting in the nest of everyday life.  The calendar has become skewed. The general public has done with Christmas by Boxing Day, whereas for the Christian the true Christmas season is then only just getting started.   

The season of Advent, like a polar bear on a melting iceberg, is an endangered species;  but it is a precious time of preparation looking forward to the coming of Christ again at Christmas, and to his second coming, when all will be consummated. During this month of December, the Christian  has to inhabit parallel worlds. We keep Advent here in the Sunday and weekday Masses, with sombre purple tones. We pace ourselves so that the great feast of Christ’s birth will not come as an anti-climax. However at the same time we are holding carol services here for the homeless, down the pub and in the care home. The church is in demand during December and it would be churlish and foolish not to respond to that demand.

There may well be other times when we have to live in parallel worlds. We may have different roles in life that require us to perform in different ways. Whatever is going on in our personal lives has to be contained within our professional lives. We may have to contain our emotions in order to carry out what is expected of us. Think how a theatre actor on the stage has to give the same performance regardless of what is happening in their personal life. We may have to live separated lives, but here in church at the Mass, we come before the Lord for all that we are to be brought together and made whole.

Advent is the season above all when we are challenged to be in the world, but not of the world. We have to adapt to modern developments but also uphold eternal values. In this busy season, we should  practise being still in the presence of God and encourage others to do the same, to get off the pre-Christmas treadmill and be aware of the immanence of God.

I was visiting the sisters at Walsingham last week and I said to one of them how lucky she was to be in Walsingham and away from Christmas. The pilgrimage season ends on 8 December, and a calm descends on the shrine. The shrine church and all the other churches remain open. I thoroughly recommend a visit there during Advent for a time of peaceful reflection.  

Unlike Lent, Advent has lost most of its pentitential character. We don’t consider giving up things  or taking on spiritual disciplines in Advent, but we should think about how we can make space for Christ, to spiritually prepare ourselves for his coming, to make room for him. One traditional and very good way to do that is to make a confession, to have a clear-out of those sins that weigh heavily upon us.

Another challenge for us, is to ensure that we are being attentive to those entrusted, even momentarily to our care, that we are not so consumed by pre-Christmas busyness that we do not listen to what we are being told. This season is an emotional time for many which brings all sorts of feelings to the surface. May we follow the spirit of charity by being forward in bringing comfort and relief to others, as far as their circumstances shall require and ours permit.

During Advent may we seek to understand the kind of life that we are meant to live: the life that God wants, and make progress towards living it.

St Augustine wrote ‘the river of time sweeps on, but there, like a tree planted by the water is our Lord jesus Christ. He became human, willing to plant himself by the river of time. If you feel yourself drifting down the rapids, lay hold of the tree; if you are caught up in the love of the world, hold on to Christ. He, for your sake, entered into time, but he did not cease to be eternal.’