A God-filled Advent

As we approach Christmas this year, many of us are looking forward to a bit of normality.

From speaking to people in our congregation, in our local schools and wider community, the desire to go ‘back to normal’ is strong. The sight of our Sunday morning congregation rebuilding, being able to sing again, and seeing so many children in church brings me joy.

This Christmas, I know I’m looking forward to being able to gather with my family, to sing carols, and welcome local schools and visitors to our church as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and God’s deep commitment to the world he loves.

I am expecting that there will be a lot of joy this Christmas.
But I am also aware, that it won’t be easy or uncomplicated.
For however much part of us will want to go back to normal, we won’t be able to – because the traumas of the last 2 years will have changed us.
This Christmas we will be aware of the people who won’t be joining us at the Christmas table for the first time – or see in church.
Hiding behind smiles, and forced jollity will only make that sorrow deeper – and lonelier.

Before Christmas, we mark Advent.
This year, I believe Advent will be a particular gift for all who are currently feeling like I am – exhausted and conflicted bundle of excitement and frustration, sorrow and joy.

Sometimes we can think of Advent as the countdown to Christmas; but it’s so much more.
Advent is traditionally a season of prayer, when we reflect on the themes of death, judgement, hell and heaven – as we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom.
So Advent is a time for longing and hope – when we look upon the reality of our world, and its sorrows, joys, injustices and opportunities, with compassion and pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

We’re all longing for a bit of normality this Christmas, but Advent calls us to desire more: to share God’s desire for the world he loves.
Faced by the challenges of the pandemic and the climate crisis, politicians sometimes talk about ‘building back better’. After the traumas of the last year, this can risk sounding glib, and it’s all too easy to be cynical. But at the same time, it would be a tragedy if in our rush for the normal and familiar, we failed to consider what we could learn from this experience, to imagine how our lives, church and community might be closer to what God desires for us.

Next year, in 2022, at St Luke’s we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the consecration of our church. Important anniversaries are about looking back: in gratitude and celebration for all the people who’ve gone before in faith and hope and love, to hallow this church and make it special. Remembering shouldn’t just be about nostalgia for how things were, and ‘the good old days’. Instead, remembrance should inspire us and encourage us for the future, as we seek to respond to the challenges and opportunities of today with the good news, trusting in the faithfulness of God.

My prayer this Advent, is that we might long for more than the normal and the familiar; but that we might bring to God all our hopes for how our lives, churches, communities and world might be better; and that our cry, ‘On earth, as it is in heaven’ will start with ‘At St Luke’s, as it is in heaven’, and ‘In Woodside, as it is in heaven.’