Happy New Year!?
written by Rev Gary Heard

Advent was not a season with which I was familiar as a child. Generally not celebrated as part of the Baptist tradition, my first encounter with Advent and candles left me somewhat bemused. Upon enquiry I was told that Advent was to remind us that Christmas was coming. Advent calendars filled with chocolates are but one symbol which point to that meaning. But Advent is more than a mere “countdown to Christmas”.

Advent marks the commencement of a new church year. The last Sunday of the old year is the Celebration of Christ the King, a day on which the church reflects on the ultimate consummation of history, when the final reign of God’s kingdom is established under the authority of Jesus Christ. The new liturgical year commences with its focus on Advent: the coming of Christ into the world, and begins with the voice of the prophets: the voice of promise.

But Advent is more than an historical recollection of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, it is a reminder to us of God’s abiding promise to come to us in the midst of life. We reflect on the promises of scripture which foretold of Jesus’ birth, and are invited also to reflect on God’s promised presence with us each day. God did not merely enter history at one point and depart: His fingerprints are found across the already written pages of history, and are leaving his DNA even today. As we reflect in the Advent season on the coming of Christ into the world, we reflect also on the ways in which God enters history today.

The connection with Christmas often leaves us contemplating Advent solely as God’s gift to each of us: “what present have we received?” Such a self-focussed approach often leads us to miss the point: God entered the world in Christ, and we are in the world to reveal Christ to others. It’s not solely about what God has done for us, it moves on to consideration about what God wants to do through us. We need to consider how we can reveal Christ to others in the same way.

Someone pointed to a 25-word description of Christmas: For God so loved the world that he gave is only-begotten son that whosover believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16 KJV). But it’s only half the story. The other half is found in 1 John 3:16 – “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

At the start of a new year we take time to reconsider how we live. In Advent, perhaps we should reconsider how we share the life of Christ.

November 28, 2004
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