Advent message from the Bishop of St Albans
Traditionally preparations for Christmas began on Advent Sunday, signaling the start of a period of prayer and fasting in readiness to celebrate the birth of Christ. When I was young we knew that the countdown to Christmas had started because of the Advent calendar on the mantelpiece. I still remember the sense of anticipation as the children took turns to open the cardboard windows each day and read the scripture verses out loud.
Today Christmas preparations are rather different. If you watch the television ads you will know that they begin on the same weekend, although nowadays it’s heralded by Black Friday rather than Advent Sunday.
With longer opening hours in shops and the promise of bargains, Back Friday can be dangerous. Last November police were called out to seven shops in Manchester, arresting three men and summoning medical help for a woman was injured by a ‘falling television’ as they fought over the bargains. It’s become so problematic that this year some police forces are suggesting that retailers should spread the sales over a longer period to avoid violence.
Of course, long gone are the traditional Advent calendars. Today it is almost impossible to buy one unless it is a dispenser of chocolates and there are certainly no verses of scripture recounting the events of the first Christmas. It seems that today’s preparations for Christmas are more about personal excess and indulgence. Now, I don’t want to be a spoil sport. I enjoy all the trappings of Christmas but I think we are missing something – not least because unbridled consumption has created an epidemic of obesity which threatens our health and wellbeing.
Perhaps it’s a good time to recapture the original spirit of Advent, drawing nearer to the God who is always pouring his life out in generosity. One of the best ways we can prepare for Christmas is to practice generosity. By that I don’t mean buying even more expensive presents for our friends and families, but the giving which does not expect any return. As John Bunyan, one of the great Christians of Bedfordshire, said ‘You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’ This spirit of generosity sets us free from our self-absorption and allows us to grow into the people that God created us to be. Now I think that’s the best form of preparation for Christmas.
Listen to the Bishop’s Advent message online here: https://clyp.it/0kdtrxqz