An Advent Thought for The Month

Happy New Church Year! Yes, it’s that time again as we leave one church worship year for another, and as always, that must mean we have entered the season of Advent, which just like its Lenten cousin, requires us to stop, reflect, and prepare ourselves for what is to come, though I would argue that both reflection and preparation should always remain a constant, always a part of our natural Christian life cycle.

The difficulty that the Advent observance has, much like the Lenten one, is that it’s competing with so many other seasonal secular preparations, which are of course time-consuming distractions, and that can mean that sometimes we really do struggle to come to a stop, let alone find time to reflect or prepare. So therein lies your first Advent thought, to ask yourself, when will you make the time to stop for God, both physically and spiritually?

Scripture as always will give us the tools for reflection and preparation, our Advent readings will as always build a sense of expectation about the arrival of a saviour, the long-awaited Messiah that will bring justice and salvation to the righteous. We find ourselves listening to a narrative of anticipation for a God that will bring about a better world, one of safety from persecution, free from poverty, devoid of conflict, a fair and just world for all peoples of all nations. It is a narrative of saving expectations set in the distant past, but one that we still earnestly yearn for in the here and now, and one that nurtures both our persistent waiting and sense of hope for a future arrival, one that will set the world to rights. Advent is all about expectation.

Expectations though should be tempered with caution because everything is rosy when they eventually do become reality, but think about how you might feel when they don’t actually materialise? It would only be natural to experience emotions such as disappointment, anger or doubt, which in turn might lead us to become very disillusioned by the experience?  A great example of this is found in one of the central figures of the Advent story, that of John the Baptist. Now here is someone who resolutely knew that the Messiah, the Savour of all, had arrived at a world that desperately needed Him, and not only that, but he also knew exactly who it was, having no doubts at all when declaring Jesus to be that very person. John, like those around him, had a very fixed expectation of what the Messiah would be, a leader who would vanquish the oppressors of his people, set all the wrongs to right and would have the power of the Almighty to use as and when needed, everything that Jesus was never going to be. Skip a little further into his story and you will find John languishing in a prison cell, waiting for the spectacular release that never came, and when all those negative feelings that I just mentioned came bursting forth from the greatest of prophets, it led John to ask Jesus “are you the one or is there another”? The doubt and disappointment caused by his fixed expectations, was so powerful as to actually overwhelm his most stoic of faith. If it can happen to him, then what of us?

Well in this season of preparation for an arrival, being called to be watchful and ready, within an atmosphere of building anticipation, we might indeed, as individuals, ask what our own expectations of God are in the here and now, and like John, what might they be for the future? When Christ comes again what would it take to convince you of his arrival? Would you, like John the Baptist, be able to recognise Him, would he meet your own expectations, would you also be looking for the spectacular and would you come to doubt Him if it were not so? I suppose like John it depends on what you imagine Him to be. As you take time to reflect (Yes, I know Christmas is just around the corner but do make the time), consider just how fixed are your expectations of God, and are they in fact actually limiting your experience of Him in the world right now. Jesus sent a message back to John to tell him to not look for the spectacular show of power that he was expecting, but to open his eyes and look at what was actually happening around him, the world may appear broken to him but because of Jesus’ ministry, people were being healed, loved, comforted and given hope. He wanted John to see that there is power to make change through these things too, which can be equally spectacular in its results. Should we not do the same?

Well, there are a few thoughts there for you to start off your Advent journey, hopefully a little challenging, hopefully a little reassuring too, comforting in that God is always with us, sometimes in the most simplest of form, so let’s not pigeon hole him through fixed expectations of the spectacular, but look for Him, as we must always look for Him, amongst the good things that still happen around us, in the faces and actions of those who show us love and friendship, those who make unselfish sacrifices for us and others, for the blessings that we do have and not the ones we cry out for.  Stop, reflect and prepare.

To all whom these words reach, I truly wish you a peaceful Christmas and a very hopeful 2024, whatever your circumstances may be, know that the love of God is always with you, even if sometimes it’s hard to see.  Amen.