Summary: A sermon for dvent Sunday intruducing the themes of Advent
I suppose I should start the sermon this morning by wishing you all ’Happy New Year.’ But before you think that I’ve completely blown it, let me explain – at least for those who weren’t here last Sunday evening. Today is new year – not that we’ve fast forwarded to Jan 1; not is it Chinese New Year nor anything like that. Today is Advent Sunday, the new year in the Church’s calendar, it’s the beginning of the Church year.
I do think that we neglect Advent. No sooner has Advent got under way than we’re headlong into all those interminable carol services that we have, so that by the time it gets to the point when we should sing carols, we’re all carolled out. And I think we are the poorer for not remembering Advent. Advent isn’t Christmas, and nor is Advent about preparing for Christmas. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of preparation for celebrating the coming of God into the world in human form in the person of Jesus his Son.
It’s interesting that the Church year starts not on some great high point, or with some fervent celebration, not with firework, not with the birth of Jesus nor with his resurrection – but with a period of waiting and preparation, with a sense of emptiness and wondering. But I think it’s right because if we don’t go through this season of Advent waiting and watching and preparing then we don’t really have anything to celebrate.
Symbols of Advent
There are many symbols of Advent. The Advent candles that we have in church are pone. We lit the first one this morning and, in the coming Sundays up until Christmas we light an additional one until, on Christmas Day we light the white candle in the middle representing Christ, the Light of the World. Traditionally the red candles have stood for the gradual revelation of the coming of Christ – the ancestors in the faith, the prophets who spoke the word of God and looked forward to a saviour figure, John the Baptist who prepared the way and Mary and Joseph. As the candles are lit each week so the waiting progresses and the expectation grows.
Another sign of Advent is the Advent Calendar. When I was growing up we always had an Advent Calendar. But it was never one with chocolate in. It was always one of those that had really old fashioned pictures relating to the nativity, or to Christmas in general behind each door. And we always argued about whose turn it was to open the door.
Today we’ve come a long way. Interestingly Advent Calendars always begin on 1 December, even though Advent rarely does, this year it’s 2 December, other years it’s in November. But Advent Calendars are about waiting in expectation of something happening, about expectation until we celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December.
But what about a jigsaw as a sign of Advent? I’m not sure it would ever catch on because it’s not as colourful and exciting as the candles and the calendars. But a jigsaw is a sign of passing time. I have phases when I’ll do a jigsaw. It goes out on the dining table and every now and then, as I pass, I’ll stop and put a few pieces in. It’s good to watch the picture emerge and develop as more pieces are placed in their right place.
And that’s true of Advent. If we wait, if we watch patiently, then the picture of Jesus revealed to us during this time becomes clearer until we rejoice on Christmas Day.
But waiting isn’t something of a virtue in society today. We don’t wait. We live in an on-demand culture where everything has to be there when we want it.
We have to have the latest DVD, or latest gadget or piece of new technology now. People queue outside shops for days sometimes to be the first to get their hands on something new. And so it goes on.
And people are prepared to go into great debt to have things now. I read an article in a Saturday newspaper the other week that showed a family with either one or two children. Both parents earned a reasonable wage but they had debt.
They had a mortgage of around £120k, OK, fine. But they had 16 credit cards with a total debt of £60k and several other loans totalling around the same amount. And that story is replicated countless times across the country.
People cannot wait, cannot have patience. A jigsaw isn’t finished on demand. It takes time, it takes patience. Advent is a one day wonder. Advent is all about waiting,about wondering, about preparing ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Christ. Too often we rush straight into Christmas from Advent Sunday.