Rector's Blog

Advent 2021

Advent candles in St.Deiniol’s

What is Advent all about?

For most people the word Advent conjures up an image of a calendar with little doors one of which can be opened every day from the 1st December until Christmas Day.  If you are really lucky there might be a chocolate behind each one and a couple of years ago I saw one for sale which revealed a daily phial of gin.

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas- this year that means it starts on 28th November.  Advent is derived from the word coming in Latin and it is a time when we look forward to the birth of Christ. It is a time of waiting, of preparation.  Just as in the weeks before Easter when we prepare through the season of Lent, Advent has traditionally been a season of fasting, prayer and self-examination.  It is also a time to reflect not only on the coming of the child Jesus at Christmas but of the expectation that Christ will return. 

I remember a former of curate of mine telling me of her time at the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield.  The students and brothers who live there keep the season of Advent rigorously.  She told me of the shock she and her friend had when they left the calm and solemnity of college one day and were faced with a barrage of Christmas lights and Christmas songs in all the shops.  She told me that the contrast between the loud brash outside world and the calm of the college and community was unnerving. She said to her  friend, “Next year when we are ordained and serving in a parish things will be very different. We won’t have the luxury of Advent”. And of course she was right.  For those of  living in Wales in the year 2021 trying to have a penitential season in the run up to Christmas is not easy.  The early onslaught of Christmas cannot be avoided even if we refrain from putting our Christmas tree up until Christmas Eve  – we have carol services, Christingles, schools come into church to hold their Christmas services.  Christmas Fayres are held early in December to get ahead of the game before money is spent elsewhere.  And this year more than ever, after last year, we will want to get together with friends and socialise.

Also it can be harder to “give things up” in Advent than in Lent.  In Lent we see the spring bulbs beginning to flower, nights are getting shorter, days longer.  Advent is at the darkest time of the year for those of us living in northern Europe.  Surely a time to eat, drink and be merry!

But in the midst of a world which can become more and more frenetic, when we are constantly being tempted if not urged  to “splash the cash” there is something to be said for spending a little bit more time in prayer each day and perhaps choosing an Advent book to read.  It is an opportunity to think about how we are living our lives and what our priorities are.  For most of us Advent is no longer a solemn season and most of us do not live, as the early Christians did, in the expectation that Christ’s return is imminent. But Advent does call us to ask ourselves – if Jesus did return today what would he find me doing? What would he make of the choices I am making in my life?

Here are some suggestions for Advent reading

Bishop Gregory has recently written and published a book for Advent entitled  “An Advent Book of Days – Meeting the characters of Christmas”.  This little book, which is beautifully illustrated by Bishop Gregory, features a different character or aspect  of the Christmas stories every day – looking at what we know from the Bible and tradition and also what that might mean for us today.

In the Bleak Midwinter – Through Advent and Christmas with Christina Rosetti  by Canon Rachel Mann helps us reflect on the themes of Advent, Christmas and right through to the feast of Candlemas through Rosetti’s verse.  I used this book for the last two years and can highly recommend it.  It is a book that can be read and re-read.

Stephen Cottrell’s book Walking Backwards to Christmas, the title of which reminds us of the Spike Milligan song, tells the nativity story in reverse beginning with the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and going back through to characters in the Old Testament helping us look afresh at the Biblical characters.

Wishing you a blessed and nourishing Advent.

Revd Andy