Advent starts on Sunday, which will confuse some of you because you’re expecting it to start next Thursday. Others of you will be appalled at the idea of ‘doing Christmas’ in November—well we won’t be, we’ll be celebrating Advent.
Advent is dark. Advent is bleak. Advent is about staring at the wretched core of the ash we clutch onto so that when our eyes are lifted and the thrice holy God comes with the dawn we are amazed, delighted, and ready.
Here at nuakh I’ll be writing about Advent for the next four weeks, before having a short break from posting over Christmas in order to feast. Over the last couple of years I’ve written a fair bit about the need for rhythms and the value of living in time, in accordance with the seasons and the church year. It’s hardly a necessity, but it is helpful.
It’s worth thinking right now about what, if anything you’ll do to celebrate Advent. I find it helpful to reflect on darkness, waiting, and the coming King; but if nothing else it’s helpful to push back on Christmas creep. Christmas starts on December 24 and runs to January 6, let’s allow the darkness of Advent to let us be surprised by the burst of light of the coming Son. Let’s allow Advent’s hard-nosed facing toward the future to fill our hearts with hope of the Son’s second coming.
So, what can you do to help?
For me music is a big part of Christmas. I adore Christmas carols, and everywhere else in the world plays Christmas pop music which sounds nostalgic because we’ve been hearing Noddy Holder scream “It’s Christmas!” since we were children.
I want to enjoy the carols through the festive season, so I try to not indulge too much before the time comes. Instead, I listen to Advent music as best I can—here is my Advent playlist if it would bless you.
Lots of people I know like to read a devotional book through Advent, which can be a great practice. If you want to draw out the themes of darkness inherent in Advent traditions, I’d recommend some selections from Fleming Rutledge’s Advent.
This year I’ll be reading through Hannah Anderson’s Let Heaven and Nature Sing, which if it’s anything like her Turning of Days will be wonderful.
Who am I kidding, I think Hannah’s great, and she was kind enough to give me some really helpful advice when I was starting out writing: buy her books.
Pulling the Christmas decorations out little by little rather than the caking the house in tinsel is good for the soul, or for my soul anyway. We’ll go and buy some trees at some point and then the smell of spruce will be everywhere you go, and pine needles will be walked by the cat into the strangest of places.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My church is in Christmas mode by early Advent, like most UK evangelical churches are. It’s understandable enough, we don’t have the opportunity to meet during the Christmas period due to the impossibility of getting our rented premises, so I’ll endeavour to enjoy Christmas even if it is soon. It’s never too soon for the incarnation, after all.
Also mulled wine after church, which I understand bemuses American onlookers.
We know it’s Christmas because of the food, here in the UK ‘the first mince pie of the season’ is a big deal. I hear that in other Anglophone countries you don’t necessarily eat mince pies, which is weird.
This is the time of the year we stretch our bellies in preparation for the big roast Turkey and all the trimmings of Christmas Dinner, and that mulled wine is acceptable most times of the day (if you’re doing it ‘properly’ the alcohol content is very low, before you fear for our livers).
Except, Advent is a fast. Which becomes an interesting conundrum for each of us to make our own peace with. Personally I’ll be trying to not go too hard too soon, but I’m not sure I have that much self-control around stollen, or anything that smells of ginger or cinnamon.
Living in time
Honestly it doesn’t matter what you do, but aligning your soul with the preaching of the church through practical practices is good for us. As the nights draw in and the skies get dark, remembering that it is darkest before the dawn is good for us. As winter’s vicious teeth gnash the trees and scatter ice across the ground—as we find ourselves drawn to huddle in front of our log fires while we wait for cold days to end—learning that this is part of the world’s story, and that at Christmas Winter loses and Spring is pregnant with Summer’s son is good for us.
Or to put it another way, the march of the seasons tells a story. They tell the story. That’s supposed to help us inculcate that story into our souls and then live it by living in the days we find ourselves.
So go forth dear friends and celebrate as you will, but if you do nothing else spot the truth in the darkening days:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:5
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