On Thursday I spoke – via video link, of course – with a group of Y6 children from one of our local primary schools. They had been looking at Advent and Christmas and had prepared a number of questions for me. These included
What do you wear on Christmas Day? I spoke about my surplice and the colour of my stole. I think they really wanted to know if I had a Christmas jumper. (I do.)
What do you eat on Christmas Day? I spoke about the Christmas puddings I usually make, following Nanny Wellington’s secret recipe. (Not this year, I’m afraid.)
And then I was asked about the themes of Advent. I had to think carefully. The traditional themes for Advent meditation are ‘the Four Last Things’:
Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell
The traditional sermon on Advent Sunday would talk about the Second Coming of Christ as judge and king; useful if the preacher feels the need to tell their congregation to ‘straighten up and fly right’.
“Are you ready to meet God when he comes as judge and king?”
Up to this point, the lesson had been pretty upbeat, and I didn’t want to bring things down. What I said was that, during Advent, Christians try to find some time to reflect on what kind of person they are and what kind of person they would like to be. It’s always difficult, given the rush to be festive that is going on all around us, but our weekly service of Compline and reflection gives an opportunity to take time out from the commercial and other pressures in the run-up to Christmas.
But this year, everything is different. When did Advent begin, that season of solemn reflection? There were no services in church on Advent Sunday. The first candle on the Advent wreath was lit virtually. It seems to me that, this year, Advent began just before Mothering Sunday, the first lockdown. We have had so much time to reflect on our own mortality and shortcomings, waiting for something better to come along, that it seems like we have been in Advent for ever. And the Christmas we are preparing for will be muted and limited. So, let’s not be too hard on ourselves. Let’s not use our Advent sermons and services to preach about the need to straighten up and fly right.
Let’s not pretend that the Christmas message is the one that says “he’s making a list; he’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.” Instead, let’s hear the ‘comfort and joy’ that God offers in coming to us as Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.