Seeking inspiration for this letter, I asked some of my family what Advent meant to them. “Chocolate,” said Ben (aged 9); “I don’t know,” said Amity (7). Not a great start!
We did get on slightly better when I asked what the meaning of Christmas was for them. “Giving, and thinking about Jesus,” was Amity’s response; Ben followed with “Jesus’s birthday”.
In our day, the marketing managers seem to have a good sales tool for their products by packaging them in cardboard behind 24 small doors and putting a premium price on them. Children may think Advent these days is about chocolate; adults are lured into believing it’s about make-up, whisky, gin, luxury food items, scented candles, coffee, cheese, perfumes, if modern calendars are anything to go by. The most unusual one I’ve come across this year is the Inkvent calendar, selling at a mere £67(!), which provides a new bottle of fountain-pen ink for each day of December until Christmas Eve.
This has totally turned the original meaning of the Advent calendar on its head. In the past their purpose was to help us wait for and anticipate the arrival of God’s gift of Jesus at Christmas time; now it seems they are about instant gratification.
This desire to have things and to have them now is part of modern society – and not I think a healthy one. It highlights the gaps between those who have and those who don’t; it causes stress and unhappiness and a constant desire for more rather than a sense of gratitude for what we already have. Our lives become a whirlwind of activity and doing, and we become less able to stop and allow ourselves to savour the experience of just being.
The busier we are, the more important it can be to take that time to stop and rebalance our lives. Let me encourage you this Advent to make time each day to stop and be. Perhaps the opening of an Advent calendar door could be the prompt you need. Whether it be five minutes or 25 minutes, why not find a place where you can sit and just be? If you’re a person of faith, use it to become aware of God alongside you, not requiring anything of you during that time than that you enjoy being in divine company.
If we use Advent well, we will find we reach Christmas in a more receptive frame of mind, less stressed and with more space to reflect on and welcome the Christ-child into our hearts and lives. After all, the simplest celebrations are often the most enjoyable.
With best wishes for a peaceful Advent and a Happy Christmas