The four weeks running up to Christmas are known as Advent, starting on Advent Sunday, which this year was November 27th and which officially marks the start of the new church year.
Traditionally in the church the season of Advent is set aside as a time for reflection and prayer as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and as we look forward to the day when Jesus will come again.
However, the weeks leading up to Christmas happen to be amongst the busiest and most hectic time of the year for many of us, and we don’t benefit as much from the season of Advent as we could. If used properly, Advent gives us an opportunity to create space in our busy lives to focus again on the important things in life, especially upon Jesus.
Here, in no particular order are some things you can do to make the most of the weeks leading up to Christmas.
1. Be careful not to treat Advent as just another busy time of the year:
During Advent life is supposed to be different, find time every day to relax, pray and reflect on the wonder that is Jesus, God’s gift to us all.
2. Avoid the frenzy:
Try not to add to the craziness of this season by being frantic yourself about last minute shopping, entertaining or decorating.
3. Make time to read the Bible & pray every day:
Hopefully this is something as Christian’s we’re already doing, but Advent is an excellent time of the year to familiarise yourself again with the Bible’s stories that lead up to the birth of Jesus. Use Bible reading notes, which give you a short passage to read each day, with a commentary (you may find some of the suggestions in the article ‘Apps for smart phones & tablets’ in this magazine helpful).
4. Make time for regular exercise:
Avoid the temptation to over eat, and watch lots of TV, instead make time for regular exercise because this is good for body, mind and spirit.
5. Do not over do your schedule:
Learn to say “no” to some of the demands or events that may beg for your presence, however enjoyable or good they may be. Know your limits. As the saying goes, “Too much of a good thing is still too much.”
6. Do not overdo gifts:
In Britain we spend more than £20bn a year on credit and debit cards in the run up to Christmas, and many people find they get themselves into debt. This year consider giving smaller, more thoughtful items. It is important to remember that the gift-giving of Christmas is supposed to spring from and be a sign of our gratitude to God for giving us the gift of his son Jesus.
7. Do not expect the culture to follow your lead:
A truly Christian approach to Advent will inevitably be counter-cultural. Our spiritual health depends on our resisting the cultural message that we need to get out and “shop till we drop.”
8. Help those less fortunate than yourself:
Remember that the real Christmas story is not set in a warm and cosy house, tastefully decorated and filled with more gifts than can fit under the tree, however wonderful that all may be. The real Christmas story is set amidst those who know enduring poverty and danger. What more loving witness could you offer than to seek out some opportunity to identify with the poor and downtrodden as God does?
For example you could make a reverse advent calendar. Reverse advent calendars work by taking a box and filling it every day with an item of food that can then be taken to a food bank (such as the one we run at St James) or clothing that can be donated to charity in order to help those less fortunate that are struggling at Christmas time.
If you have children, it is a good way of involving them in preparing for Christmas, and teaching them about the importance of helping others and seeing the bigger picture at Christmas.
Things that could go in your reverse advent calendar include:
- Tinned tomatoes
- Tinned potatoes / dried mash
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned spaghetti
- Baked beans
- UHT / Long life milk
- Tinned fruit
- Tinned meats (chilli, pie, curry, chicken, hot dogs)
- Breakfast cereals
- Soap/shower gel
- Washing up liquid
- Loo rolls
- Sanitary items
- Nappies, powdered milk, wipes etc
Let’s try and reclaim Advent and make the most of this time of expectant waiting and preparation, so that we can prepare for the coming of God into our world and in our lives once more this Christmas.