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The Christmas Countdown

a clock and christmas decorations
An Advent journey fills us with wonder and awe at God’s tenacious love for the world, says Major Heather Rodwell

The moment I set eyes on the solar-powered fairy lights, I knew I had to buy them for my daughter-in-law Hannah. I could already imagine them strung in the large tree in their front garden, dispelling the darkness and bringing delight. While distance prevented me from being there when the gift was unwrapped, I waited in anticipation for the phone call or Facebook message that they had been received. Gift-giving is something I really enjoy, but I haven’t always got it ‘right’. Happily, on this occasion I did.

There’s a buzz in our neighbourhoods and shopping malls right now as Christmas draws near. Festive lights and decorations, endless advertising and seasonal offerings of food and gifts make this celebration time impossible to ignore. We are urged to be ready. There’s an air of excitement in all this festive anticipation, which is why it’s surprising if we find ourselves less-than-excited about the Christmas countdown.

Our sense of anticipation can be reduced for all kinds of reasons, like current personal circumstances, recent loss or hardship. Even though the essence of the season is the same, our ability to engage with it is impacted.

The period of Advent that takes us up to Christmas Day invites us to prepare in such a way that we can approach this day with great anticipation, reclaiming our delight as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. During Advent, we remember that the story of God which is the essence of our Christian faith stretches over a great span of time. We’re reminded that Christ’s coming was longingly anticipated over many generations, even though they didn’t know it would be Christ who would be the fulfilment of this longing.

During Advent, we can take time to reflect on wonderful Old Testament prophecies such as Isaiah 9:2, The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who walk in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Although these words were not to be fulfilled for hundreds of years, such was the power of this promise that God’s people continued to wait in longing and anticipation for generations. Tragically, despite the people’s professed longing for deliverance from their oppressive circumstances, when Christ who is the Light came, we’re told by the Apostle John that they did not receive him (see John 1:10, 11).

We may wonder how it is that God’s most magnificent gift could be rejected, but there’s always been a mixed reaction to the gift of Jesus. The weeks of Advent provide us with the opportunity to avoid repeating the kind of error as those who lived at the time of Christ’s birth. An Advent journey can help us ensure we don’t lose sight of the main thing as we prepare for Christmas.

By taking time to read the Old Testament prophecies, we’re reminded of God’s enduring desire to live in relationship with people and his passionate pursuit of his chosen people to achieve this. The biblical accounts remind us that Christmas is part of a much larger narrative, which began at creation and ends in a New Creation. As the story of the Old Testament gives way to the New Testament in the arrival of Jesus, with the subsequent story of the birth of the church, we find ourselves joining this story and then looking forward to the final chapter. Advent invites us to take the time to connect all these parts together.

As we not only look back but also forward to the fulfilment of the promised return of Christ, we can experience Advent as a time where our longings increase. We wait in anticipation for this great light to shine in the darkness of the world in which we live.

So, in the midst of all that makes up our Christmas preparations and festivities, an Advent journey can infuse our days with something that cannot be found in shopping malls but that fills us with wonder and awe at God’s tenacious love for the world—seen in the gift of His Son. And we can take delight in awaiting the promised return of Christ, which we still yearn for. Although we don’t know when, we will have trained ourselves to be ready and waiting.

Advent invites us to grow in anticipation toward the complete fulfilment of all that God has promised. And in the meantime, to be part of bringing this to fruition in the here and now.

Major Heather Rodwell is Secretary for Spiritual Life Development