The Christmas season is upon us. But that includes a period of some 6 weeks, from the 4 weeks of Advent to the 12 days of Christmas, extending up to Epiphanytide, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. There is a whole series of thoughts and ideas within these times of preparing and celebrating.
First of all, Advent is a time of looking forward and preparing. Unlike Lent which is more penitential, Advent has a sense of deep anticipation. It looks forward most of all to the time when Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and its focus is on the last things and even on the Day of the Lord. The build up to Christmas is only a foretaste of what is yet to come. It is not troubled by times of uncertainty and even disruption, for even Jesus had said, then these things happen then “Look up, for your salvation draws near.” The point is that whatever we have and whatever we are in this life is only temporary and is a pale imitation of the glories and wonders that await us hereafter. In this sense, it is well that Advent follows our celebration of All Saints and its counterpart of All Souls. Advent is therefore a time of quiet reflection and of taking stock for the future.
Christmas is indeed the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Born humbly yet overshadowed by the stars of heaven while King Herod took fright. Born in Bethlehem due to a Roman emperor’s edict, yet even this served the eternal purposes of God, for Jesus was born in the town of His ancestor King David, also a humble shepherd, before being called to the duties of a king. In this sense it is important not to be too distracted from the fact of Jesus’ birth by its circumstances. This can lead us away from its significance and into sentimentality.
Then we come to Epiphany: the festival in which wise men or kings came from their splendour and learning to worship Him. He was now a child of less than 2 years, yet they worshipped Him nevertheless, and made costly offerings to Him. Here also Jesus was shown to the world, and the world is still challenged to accept Him, as simply as a child yet as regally as a king. That challenge has not been withdrawn.
Perhaps the challenge of the season is to see Jesus though the lenses of these times and seasons, allowing them to lead us from one perspective to another. Each of us will have a different and personal need so we should not expect to be touched by these seasons equally in all respects. It is rather like having a collection of pictures or pieces of music, each of which will inspire us according to our needs and the purposes of God. In this sense we will need to be open to God’s leading at all times. It makes me think of the words of the young Samuel in the Temple as God called his name: “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.”
May I wish you all a merry and a blessed Christmas, and a happy new year.