As a child in the run up to Christmas, chocolate Advent calendars were a regular feature of the Bechervaise household. The problem was I sometimes forgot to open a window. But in truth this was no bad thing in my book because it meant on occasion not one but two (or sometimes more) chocolates needed eating in order to catch up! This always gave me a little buzz. More chocolate! Who can blame me? The chocolates aren’t exactly big and one on its own never seemed enough.
Looking back I think I was missing the point.
And when it comes to Advent I think a lot of people are, epitomised by the rapidly growing trend of fancy Advent calendars, many at great expense.
For him there's a selection of grooming products contained in a calendar from Mankind, all for a modest £250. For her there's a vast array of beauty calendars, including Boots’ No. 7 range which launched with a 100,000 waiting list:
For the kids there's a selection of LEGO options:
For the office geek (who enjoys a luxury edge) kikki.K’s Stationary Lovers Advent Calendar. For those looking for some sparkle Carot London’s offering of 24 — nope, wait, 12 — jewellery pieces. For the minimalist, 25 boxes filled with…nothing. And for the whiskey connoisseur (with £10,000 to spare) there's this offering of 24 incredibly rare whiskies:
I could go on.
Advent — meaning 'coming' — begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day, and is intended to be a time to reflect on God coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and look forward to when Christ will return again, the Second Coming.
This seems totally lost on the many designers, retailers and the like keen to exploit the practice for monetary gain. As for the consumer, instead of being a time of inward preparation and waiting for Christmas Day, Advent has become yet another opportunity to — among other things — drink more wine, become more fragrant, or sample a new selection of teas.
Many of these products are ‘luxury’, something totally at odds with the humble and dirty beginnings of Christ Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem.
The flourishing fancy Advent calendar industry is further proof that the true meaning of Christmas is getting increasingly buried beneath the Christmas tree. The 25 days up to and including Christmas Day are seen as novel rather than sacred.
Advent is meant to give opportunity to reflect on why Christ came to earth and what it means for us. This is hard; it involves being confronted with our sin and the broken world we live in. But it is only by acknowledging this that we can fully realise and receive the incomparable joy and wonder of Emmanuel. God with us.
So what can we do to recover the true, sacred meaning of Advent?
First of all, we need to look at our own hearts. What is preoccupying and exciting our hearts as we head into Advent? Is it buying and receiving gifts, arranging get togethers, or enjoying the array of Christmas markets, movies and tunes available to us? Or is it the stable?
It’s so easy to get carried away with season festivities that the wonder of that first Christmas subtly gets pushed to the sidelines. Of course, gifts, food, drink, families and friends should be enjoyed. But they will never plumb the depths of what it means to know Emmanuel, the greatest gift of all. If we get our focus right, everything else actually becomes that little bit sweeter.
Let's be intentional about marking Advent. Here are 5 suggestions:
- The Real Advent Calendar features a line from the Christmas story behind each window, along with a piece of Fair-trade chocolate. It also comes with a 24-page Christmas story activity book. Particularly good for children.
- Embark on the Bible Society’s #AdventChallenge, which involves taking on three Biblically-inspired challenges each day, or join Stewardship as they take you on a journey unwrapping the four traditional gifts of Advent — hope, joy, peace and love.
- Canadian author Sarah Bessey has a number of great recommendations on her blog. It features her own devotional along with a number of other suggestions, including books and a Instagram photo-a-day-challenge.
- Get an Advent candle or make an Advent wreath. This is a beautiful way of prompting quiet reflection.
- Spend time walking through some of the key Scriptures to do with Christmas (e.g. Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2).
Finally, seek ways to share your Advent journey with others. Spot opportunities to bring it up in conversation. Social media can also be an effective way of communicating the true meaning of Advent.
Advent is once again upon us. Let’s not miss the point of it all. It’s a truth simply too wonderful to overlook. And in doing so, perhaps we will end up encouraging others to not miss it either…