Advent means “a time of expectant waiting and preparation” and is mainly to do with the Christian calendar in respect of the four Sundays leading up to the Birth of Jesus Celebrated on Christmas Day. Our Hymns today are all those associated with this time of the year. But in many ways they are all mixed with an older pagan festival of the Winter Solstice, this is the day that the Sun starts to come back towards the northern hemisphere and the days start to lengthen again. In Ancient pre Christian times this was celebrated as when the sun child is reborn, an image of the return of all new life born through the love of the Gods. Adapted and made Christian years ago.
In another faith the Jewish people celebrate Chanukah, known as the festival of lights, partly based on a miracle where a light was needed to burn constantly in the 2 nd Temple in Jerusalem, but there was only enough oil left for one day, but mysteriously it burned for 8 days. This was claimed to be a miracle and one of the now basis for the festival of Lights.
Did any of these events actually take place is a question many will have asked over time. The insecure will often hold on to a belief in the validity of a belief system to the point of losing the point of the event being recorded. Perhaps just how we would view a child of 16 who still believed in Santa coming down the chimney so some people will forget the story or tradition is not the main point. The main point is that there is an underlying message to any belief. In the case of Advent in the Christian belief it is that a story tells God is not just distant on a cloud, not just confined to ancient times BCE in giving laws and ways to live. Instead it brings God with us, or Emanuel as is sung in traditional Christmas Advent hymns. Seen in the gift of a child in a manger, seen in the life of the child that grew to manhood. That miracles can still be done in many ways, that knowing something of the so called eternal life is possible for all who will follow such teachings as that child grew up to give.
Did any of these things actually take place is secondary to the point that is that humanity has at various times found a way to express things in feasts and festivals around the world. The problem is the festival often takes over from the message it once stood for.
As I was thinking about this it seemed to me that Advent should be a time of spiritual preparation, a time about starting to think of the outworking of a belief. Regardless of what we might believe, the message is one of making yourself ready, on your journey of life to be reflective of one major thing.
Maybe once there were a people who needed to be led and delivered from Egypt and from slavery. For generations a group of people has believed they were delivered from the tyranny of slavery and given a way to live in a land where they could be free. This is the Jewish story..
Maybe once there was a child born who was to grow and reflect in his teaching and his life a message about the true nature of God. This is the Christian story..
Maybe ancient beliefs and ways of celebrating that new life starts with the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere, helped people to live a life in tune with the earth religion of paganism.
These are just three belief systems, there are more and they do things a little differently. But in any way of doing religion there is a time to prepare and to link it to a season is not such a bad thing.
Maybe, if I'm lucky, a flash of awareness that I can rededicate the holy places in my own life as the Temple was rededicated of old. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat says of Chanukah to her today.
Howard Thurman was a black minister and a great scholar in America, and it is to his words I turn to conclude our thoughts on preparations for Christmas.
"Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes, / And the heart consumes itself, if it would live, / Where little children age before their time, / And life wears down the edges of the mind, / Where the old man sits with mind grown cold, / While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death, / Where fear companions each day's life, / And Perfect Love seems long delayed. / Christmas is waiting to be born; / In you, in me, in all humankind."
In our preparations for seasonal festivities remember the love you reflect is waiting to be born for all humanity and in all humanity. In our lives we can use the season of advent to rededicate our lives anew to all that is holy to be constantly re- born in us on our journey of life..
Let it be so..