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A short Advent

This year is the shortest Advent time possible, just 21 days long. That also squeezes our Advent celebrations here at St Paul’s and at other churches. The only service dedicated to Advent themes is this Sunday, 3rd December. After that we’re hurrying towards the stable of Bethlehem. For someone who comes from a tradition in which patient waiting for Christmas was a significant part of festivities, modern Christmas in New Zealand feels a bit flat, because so much energy is spent before we get there.

Though we cannot experience Advent fully, at least we can still get a sense of its significance. I would highlight the following aspects of Advent:

  • a focus on the promises of salvation to Israel and God’s work through Israel across the millennia;
  • internal preparation of our hearts for the presence of Christ in our lives, together with quiet times of reflection;
  • a focus on the second coming of Christ, sorrowing at the hurt of the world and celebrating the joy of God’s salvation;
  • a reminder to be ready at any time for God’s future;
  • anticipation of and waiting for a great day of joy;
  • joining saints throughout time in hope and faithful living.

One of the ways of expressing this link with Israel and saints of times gone by has long been through the singing of Advent hymns, which tend to be of ancient origins, both in text and melody. Some even seem to echo old Jewish plainsong. In Germany several new Advent hymns originated in the 1930s and 1940s by authors who in difficult circumstances and oppression held onto the hope of God’s promises when around them seemed only gloom. In those hymns themes of darkness and light are quite prominent. That may not be so pertinent in the New Zealand summer.

Nevertheless, I hope that amidst the rush and busyness of the season we can pause at times to remember the longing for God’s salvation, as well as the faithful endurance of the people of God throughout time.