Christmas is coming!
Is that good news - something we look forward to - or bad news – something we dread?
Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as Christians prepare to celebrate the coming (the Latin word is “adventus”) of Christ in his incarnation, and also look ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies we use over this period not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement.
This year in the TONIC service we are singing on the Sundays in December a modern (well, 1990s!) hymn as we light the candles on the Advent Wreath. The hymn builds up with a new verse each week, until we reach the climax on Christmas Day. The refrain and first verse go like this:
"Christmas is coming"
the Church is glad to sing
and let the advent candles
brightly burn in a ring.
The first is for God's promise
to put the wrong things right,
and bring to earth's darkness
the hope of love and light.
That sets the scene, both for our joyful celebration of Christmas, and also for the challenge of what it means to believe and live out the good news that God is still involved in his world – that despite all the evidence to the contrary God is still working “to put the wrong things right, and bring to earth's darkness the hope of love and light.”
You’ll have to come to church in December to find out the other verses!
As we look out over the world at the end of 2018 it’s easy to despair, both at what is going on in the wider world and in our own country. We thought the deprivation, devastation and loss of life during the First World War was bad enough – we’ve been reminded of that frequently this year. But the almost unimaginable horrors of war and starvation in Yemen (they say it may be the worst ever famine, and it is all preventable) is just the most shocking of so many horrors, not to mention what seem like more natural disasters than ever, and the chaos of Brexit. No wonder people cry out “Where is God in all of this?”
One way of answering that question, that picks up the theme of darkness and light, can be found in a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, who entitled it “God Knows". It was written before the First World War but came to prominence in the Second World War when King George VI quoted it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
What we celebrate at Christmas doesn’t guarantee us or anyone success, prosperity or a happy life. But it does assure us that God himself is with us. St John in his Gospel describes how the ‘Word’ (that is, God himself) “became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.” And we believe he still is with us today. Jesus is (not just ‘was’) Emmanuel, God with us.
May you know God’s love and light and peace with you this Advent and Christmas… and on into the New Year.
God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.