This month.....

I’m writing this on a dull November day, where the rain has just paused for a moment, with little hope of any sunlight breaking through and lifting the greyness that has characterized the last few days. Outside, on my walk to the canal with the dog, the street and canal path are strewn with damp, fallen leaves and the plants in the garden are starting to die back too. The daffodil and snowdrop bulbs we’ve planted are buried deep below in the soil and we’re waiting for the sign of new life we will see peeking up through the earth in the new year.

I really value each of the four seasons of the year. I cherish the way that we move from autumn to winter to spring to summer to autumn and the whole cycle beginning again. Appreciating the changes in seasons keeps us in touch with the natural world around us. As they change so our lives are lived in different ways too. In the summer I am fond of sitting outside in the sun listening to the sky filled with birdsong and in the winter wrapping up warm on those crisp, frosty days for a walk or curling up in front of a fire with a good book.

The seasons of the church’s year are also important, and I enjoy the annual cycle as we start the year in Advent with a time of reflective waiting and preparing for Christmas. You will see in our churches that decoration during this time is simple, sparse even, and the liturgical colour is purple. Advent is about waiting and expectation, for welcoming the coming of Christ. I love the transition from a time with no flowers in church, the purple colours and no Gloria sung in our services to a beautifully decorated church, with joyful carols and the liturgical colour changing to gold and white. For me, this transformation adds to the excitement of the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For us, living on this side of the world, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the contrasts, we use in our language and symbols, of darkness and light work powerfully throughout Advent and Christmas. In our churches we have an Advent wreath, a concept that originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath that you see today took shape. There are five candles on the wreath which are lit – one on each Sunday, before the last on Christmas Day. With the lighting of each candle we remember The Patriarchs, The Prophets, John the Baptist, The virgin Mary and on Christmas day Christ.

When I was a child, we had a picture advent calendar that I shared with my sister, it was a recycled one from the year before; with the doors stuck back down with a little blu-tack. There was excitement as to which one of us would open the double doors on 24th December and discover what the picture would be. (Despite having opened it for many years we seemed to forget what they were each year!). Now many of us have our own advent calendars that give us a daily treat of chocolate as we wait and countdown the days until Christmas. With a quick search on Google I found an enormous choice of advent calendars available for sale today. There’s cheese, Baileys, popcorn, herbal tea, curry, beauty products, and my favourite a gin Advent calendar! The market has exploded in recent years and has made the waiting and build up to Christmas with an advent calendar a real (and costly) purchase.

Advent means ‘the coming’ in Latin and, in the case of Christmas, it represents the birth of Jesus Christ. In Advent, we’re reminded of God’s promise to his people that he would come to break into our darkness and bring light and hope to all. We hear the message delivered by the prophets, by John the Baptist, by the angel visiting Mary. This is a two-fold message of expectant waiting – for the birth of a Messiah and for the time when Christ will return to Earth. As we wait, we are called to be ready and to prepare ourselves as we join together to celebrate the birth of Jesus; God sends his son to live as one of us here on Earth.

The season of Advent can become slightly lost in the busy-ness of the festive preparations; with the shops enticing us in to purchase goodies, Christmas music playing to help us enter the festive spirit, with cards to write, gifts to wrap, people to visit and baking to be completed, it can become overwhelming and all consuming.

As we get ready for that time of great celebration, may we make time in our preparations to stop, go slowly, simply ‘be’, so we can be ready to welcome the Christ child into our midst, into our hearts again this Christmas.

May you all know the blessings of joy, love and peace this Advent season and Christmastide when it comes.

Revd Joanna Porter