For Christians today, just as for Christians of the Celtic church, Advent is a time of preparation before Christmas. In some ecclesiastical traditions (such as the Church of England), it marks the start of the Christian year. We look forward once again to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ, but we also look forward, in expectation, to the time when Christ will return.
Preparation is important in many endeavours, whether you’re planning a Polar expedition or a shopping trip. Preparing for Christmas can feel like the former, from battling through Christmas lists, to the endless round of school and work events, the tyranny of Christmas cards (many people have jettisoned this one), and my personal most hated thing… that everyday items now come packaged in a special Christmas edition. I really don’t need Frosty the Snowman Baked Beans.
As well as the outward focus, Advent is also a time to prepare ourselves, searching within to lay bare the truth of who we are – the bits we’re happy with and the bits that we’d rather people didn’t look at too closely. This forty day period gives us plenty of time to turn out the cupboards of ourselves and take an objective look at who we are. This isn’t an exercise in self condemnation, but rather an opportunity to, as it were, ‘Marie Kondo’ our lives. Taking each facet of ourselves and asking does it spark joy? What’s worth holding on to? What makes our hearts sing? What have we outgrown? What grudges are festering? What unhelpful thinking are we persisting with?
As I start this journey through Advent, I’m conscious that a great deal of this year didn’t turn out as I expected it to. Much has been hurtful and bewildering, while, in contrast, much has been life-affirming and beautiful. I could, if I wasn’t careful, approach this time with a heavy heart, but it isn’t my intention to do that. I aim to commit this time into God’s hands and, be honest with him, in the hurting as much as the gratitude. Allowing him to show me what I need to learn from this experience.