I wonder how you are as we approach the end of November and as the season of Advent begins? Are you full of questions about what restrictions might still be in place when Christmas arrives? Are you weary or anxious about still not being able to see loved ones? Are you concerned that those for whom this season is always a difficult time, will find it even more painful this year? Or are you still full of a sense of anticipation and excitement about the opportunity to celebrate the coming of Christ, whatever that celebration might look like?
We may well have hearts and minds full of those questions and thoughts, plus others too. We may also be feeling a sense of loss about all the ways in which we will be unable to mark Advent and celebrate Christmas in the life of the church. Meanwhile, the commercial world is pressing on regardless! For weeks before this second lockdown the shops were full of the usual seasonal food, chocolate, baubles, candles, garlands, cards and wrapping paper!
John Lewis, Sainsburys, Aldi and many other large retailers have all released their Christmas advertisements and many individuals and families are trying to bring the start of Christmas forward by decorating their Christmas trees and putting up lights on the outside of their homes in recent weeks!
All of this is seemingly carrying on as if there is nothing different at all about this year and it may be that some of us find that quite difficult because so much of what we associate with Christmas – our journey through Advent together, our Christingle and Carol services, our Christmas Eve communion – are just not going to happen!
There is no doubt that lament has a rightful place in our experience at the moment and it's important that we acknowledge what we have missed and what we are missing. It's also important that we acknowledge our regrets about those experiences which we simply haven't been able to have. And that will be equally true of whatever our lived experience of this season of the year is going to be.
For many, the prospect of being unable to see family will be unthinkable, for others the pain which this season always brings will be heightened, whilst for some the reduced pressure which not being able to hold large gatherings brings, will be welcome.
Perhaps the hardest thing for many of us is the frequent changes in restrictions and guidance. It can feel as if we are on an emotional rollercoaster with the perpetual up and down of planning and hoping, then cancelling or delaying and never quite knowing where we are or if the decisions we are making are right!
The reality is that however we are feeling, Christmas isn't cancelled! Like me you may have seen that phrase being used on social media platforms in recent weeks by many organisations and also by the Church. Of course, this statement is a truism! Whatever is happening for us in our own lives and situations and whatever may be going on across the world, the season of Advent and Christmas will still come and go. The difference will be in how we respond to our situation and how we choose to mark and celebrate the season and that is perhaps where we can find the certainty we are looking for and stop the rollercoaster from going around the track again!
Once we start to take account of what may or may not be possible, it's probably helpful to make some decisions about what we can't do and what we will do. By doing so, we give ourselves space to process the grief we feel. But we also achieve some clarity and that allows us to move from the weight of our loss into the hopefulness of possibility – we move from lament into creativity.
This season of Advent is here to help us prepare ourselves for the celebrations of Christmas, the time when we remember the truth that is at the heart of the Gospel – that God came into all the mess of the world in the person of a tiny baby – Jesus Christ. God didn't just love the human race from a distance – he came to share the mess.
The world is certainly messy now – our lives are messy now – everything as we have known it may feel like one big mess – and into that mess, Christ comes again and again and again. And it's that coming that gives us reason to celebrate, whatever that celebration may look like this year.
The Christ who came as a baby in Bethlehem, is the Christ who still comes among us today and the Christ who calls us to follow his example and run towards the mess of other people's lives. Many in our communities are dealing with pain and hurt and loneliness and poverty and isolation. Life is overwhelming and as the church we are not called to love from a distance. We are called to step into the mess and point them to the one who also shares the mess with us – Jesus Christ.
So, as we begin our Advent journey, perhaps with a measure of disappointment at what cannot be, let us remember that all that is at the heart of this season, remains true and is worth celebrating. Love came down at Christmas and love is messy. So, as part of our Advent preparation, let's take time to acknowledge the mess in which we find ourselves and take some time to lament that. But let us then move on to roll our sleeves up and be prepared to get messy with and for Christ, that others may know him to be in their mess with them.
Gill Newton, District Chair