Year on year, Advent becomes more and more important to me. As life becomes ever busier, the true meaning behind Christmas can too easily be lost amongst the consumerism, the parties, the family get-togethers and the TV schedules.
I need Advent. I need the reminder to turn my thoughts away from the world, even for just a moment, and think of the miracle of grace that God sent to us: the all powerful Lord born into the most vulnerable human form of a baby.
Not that Christmas is just about a baby though, it is simply the beginning of the story of saving grace. Right now, my life feels like it’s at a beginning too.
Admittedly I have been exploring ordination for almost a year now, but a few weeks ago the DDO laid out a timetable for next year that potentially marked a big change for me and my family (see We are family and An overwhelming Advent). As I lit the third Advent candle in my church with my son it dawned on me that I didn’t know if we would be there when 2014 draws to a close. It was an overwhelming moment.
With my thoughts so focused on next year, and the forms to fill in over the festive period, there was a big danger that Jesus wasn’t going to get a look in, how ironic would that have been?
Jesus is the reason not only for Advent but the reason I am exploring ordination in the first place. I needed to ensure that He was my focus on both.
Last week my wife surprised me with tickets to a Medieval Carol Concert at Wells Cathedral. Both the cathedral and the town are wonderful and inspiring places (where, as an aside, the film Hot Fuzz was filmed), and the concert proved to be equally inspiring.
We approached the cathedral at night. The church seemed to disappear into the night sky, the boundary between heaven and earth removed. The doors, pillars, statues and carvings that greeted us as we walked through the nave told a tale even older than the 12th and 15th Century songs about to be sung. The church carried the evidence of worshippers who had hewn it out of rock laid down by God in the tropical ocean than once covered Somerset.
The 5 strong choir sung unaccompanied, their voices reverberated as they walked through the candlelit cathedral, carrying the words of past disciples into the present day. The weight of history carried by the words being sung and spoken hit me as I sat hugged by the stone alcoves of the choir stalls.
The path I am exploring is a well trodden one. At times it feels like I’m alone on it, and that I am venturing into unknown territory, but in front of me was the evidence of others who had gone before me. Each person, whether a priest, composer or stone mason, faced their own personal trials. I knew that before now, but listening to the medieval carols I felt the comforting warmth that came knowing I was walking with others past and present. Their stories give a multitude of examples from which to gain wisdom, strength and solace in the times ahead.
Those that have gone before us, right back to the first disciples, show that no matter how weak we feel, or how many flaws we have within us, we can live lives that honour and glorify the gift Jesus brought for us. Their lives show that God used them, and can use us, to bring others into His Kingdom and enrich their relationship with their Saviour.
This year as I think of Jesus as a baby, lying so utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph, I will be thinking of the journey He was began all those years ago. He experienced what we experience, He felt what we feel. Like the disciples that followed Him, Jesus’s life provides us with much wisdom and comfort to help us find our way through life. Yet at the same time He is unlike them too because He still lives and can help us today.
Now that is worth celebrating. Happy birthday Jesus and happy Christmas to you.