I always think it a slightly strange paradox that, just as we are drawing to the end of our calendar year, we have ‘Advent Sunday’ in early December to mark the beginning of the Christian Year. From childhood, all I really remember of Advent was receiving an Advent Calendar from my mum, and the feeling of anticipation as I opened a new window day by day in the lead up to Christmas.
I also remember we would have an Advent wreath in our house, and my brother and I would vie for the role of lighting another of the Advent candles as each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas came. There was something about that candle-light which I suppose resonated quite deeply with me – it’s such a warm, welcoming form of light, and I remember from childhood feeling a growing sense of inner peace and contentedness as the successive candles joined the others in their glow.
Here at Taunton School, I’m glad to say there is a tradition of marking this special time of year with an Advent Service. It’s quite distinct from the celebrations of Christmas – in the Advent Service we look through and beyond the humble stable of Jesus’ birth to his second coming – when, as it says in the book of Revelation Ch 21 v4 He shall ‘wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’. As we watch the News each night, and see troubles in the world seemingly incessant, the promise of this second coming engenders a longing within for that time to come soon – waiting can be a frustrating business!
Advent means ‘coming’ and as every good linguist will tell you, it’s a verb written in the ‘present continuous’ tense. Like physical training or studying for exams, there is a duality of purpose in the present continuous – there is an end (when Christ returns), but there’s also a means – i.e. there is value in the meantime – the waiting, the anticipating, the longing. Many people think of their schooldays as a means to an end, but this is to somehow miss the point – each day is a gift for today, not just a stepping stone on route to tomorrow. These Advent days of hoping and expecting – they all have a value in and of themselves – if only to develop within us the virtues of patience and perseverance! I always love the Mark Twain quote; ‘When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years’ – perhaps Advent is a bit like that – as we wait for Jesus to return, maybe, just maybe, it is we who are growing and learning in the meantime?
Do consider coming along and join us at our Advent Service on Sunday 3rd December (6.15pm in Chapel) – you’d be most welcome! The Choir are going to sing some beautiful music, we’ll listen to traditional Advent readings, and sing some wonderful Advent hymns – all by candle-light. Whether you are able to join us or not, I’ll leave you with this thought – this Advent, in addition to looking forward to the coming of good ol’ Father Christmas, why not think beyond the festivities and allow yourself a deeper season of longing for the ‘new heaven and new earth’ promised in Revelation when these ‘former things’ will have passed away? May God bless you and yours this Advent, this Christmas and beyond.
Rev’d Matthew Dietz