Rector’s Letter December 2016

What is your favourite festival or season in the Christian Year? Undoubtedly many of you would say that it is Christmas or Easter. This isn’t surprising as they are the most important feasts of the Church in which we celebrate the birth and death/resurrection of Our Lord. But there are other less prominent seasons and days which have very important things to teach us – and which can be very enjoyable to keep in their own right. Amongst these my favourite is Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of the Lord – a time of anticipation and Hope.

It’s actually quite difficult to keep Advent properly these days because Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier. So much so that the Advent message easily gets drowned out. The Advent season is traditionally a fairly austere one. As in Lent the altar frontals and priestly vestments are purple – and some of the more joyful parts of the liturgy – such as the Gloria in Excelsis – are omitted. But at the same time the world outside the church (and increasing numbers of church members too) want most of the trappings of Christmas – such as Christmas trees and carol services to take place throughout December, as if the great festival itself had already arrived.

Whatever we might feel, it is now impossible to prevent this overshadowing of Advent by pre-Christmas festive celebrations. This battle is lost. But we must certainly not give up on Advent. Even if a Christmas tree appears in church in the run up to the great festival the frontals and the vestments remain purple, and parallel to carol services are the wonderful Advent hymns which are sung on the Sundays of this special season.

But why is Advent so important? Advent calendars give the impression that it is just about looking forward to Christmas – but this is not the case. Advent is about the coming of the Lord in every sense. Part of this is certainly a looking forward to the celebration of the birth of Jesus – his coming into our world as the Word made flesh. But it is also about the coming of the Lord in judgment at the end of time – a coming in righteousness and justice but also in Love. ‘Lo he comes with clouds descending’ we sing in one of the greatest of all the hymns of Advent.

Perhaps we find this notion of Christ’s coming at the end of time a bit difficult to understand and indeed it may be hard to fit into our modern understanding of the world. For many it might be easier to think of his coming to us at the end of our own lives, rather than in some great apocalyptic event. We can think of his coming to us in all kinds of ways – for example his coming to us in scripture, prayer and Eucharist. But whichever way we look at it – what Advent does is to remind us that we should try to live our lives in the light of his coming to us.

This could seem frightening, but if we reflect that his coming will be a judgement in love then we can see it as something to anticipate, joyfully. For me, Advent is a season of hope – even of exhilaration. ‘Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’(Luke 21:28) Think of it as a bit like one of those beautiful sunny, crisp, frosty winter mornings when it feels good to be alive. “Now is the time to wake out of sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.’ Advent is a time to be fully awake to the reality of God in our lives, and to see those lives in the light of the coming of Jesus who loves us and wants us to share his life for all eternity.

We have been given an excellent resource for our prayer and reflection this Advent in the diocesan booklet ‘Advent Landscape’. Do use this throughout the days ahead so that in the midst of all the preparations for Christmas – important as these are – we can take time to make Advent a reality in our daily lives. There will be opportunities to come together to share in the reflections in the booklet on some of the Fridays of the month ahead. And on Tuesday 6th Archdeacon Paul will be leading an Advent Quiet Day for the whole Archdeaconry in Holy Trinity. We are delighted that this is being held in Llandudno on our very doorsteps. An opportunity not to be missed!

Happy Advent – and Christmas, when it comes!

Fr. John

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