Mary and Joseph sought sanctuary in Bethlehem and then Egypt, but also welcomed strangers to their home. Even when times are tough, we can find sanctuary in Christ this Christmas, and extend that hope to others, says Krish Kandiah
For many years I lived in general indifference to the church calendar, including Advent. Jesus is for life not just for Christmas, I would think to myself. Why couldn’t every day be a celebration of the resurrection? Besides, there’s just so much to do in December I hardly get a moment to fit anything else in.
But as I’ve got older, I’ve recognised that I can benefit from the discipline of a different rhythm. This year, more than ever, I feel the need to give my soul some attention, and I find myself looking forward to Advent with fresh enthusiasm.
Shaped by truth
Throughout the centuries, Christians have observed seasons like Lent and Advent to help deepen their appreciation of the goodness of God during the hustle and bustle of life. They remind us that the gospel should shape our priorities, not the pace of the news cycle, the ever-increasing financial pressures, the cut and thrust of the workplace, the blatant consumerism or the relentless everyday demands of life.
Many have found these seasons beneficial in rekindling hope, finding peace and seeking out holiness.
I used to think that this was just selfish, indulgent introspection that doesn’t just shut out the unwanted noise that the world generates, but shuts out other people too - people who are already excluded and marginalised. But I no longer believe this has to be true. There is a way that Advent can help us to reconnect not only with God but with those in need around us.
A difficult year
My work this year has taken me to some difficult places. From the borders of Ukraine to villages in Uganda and through the revolving doors of Westminster, I have seen how easily God can be ignored, power can be abused and lives can be destroyed.
Advent is not just about the coming of Christ, it is about the coming in of Christ
I have spent time with Afghan families faced with spending their second Christmas in temporary accommodation. I have listened to Ukrainian women crying over all that has been taken from them. I have watched as communities grieve over the tragic loss of too many children. The senselessness, cruelty and despair have eaten away at my soul.
The more I thought about finding sanctuary in Advent, the more I realised that Advent is all about sanctuary. It focusses in on a family who are forced to seek sanctuary first in Bethlehem and then in Egypt, but who also welcome all sorts of desperate people into their lives. More than that, it is about how God welcomes us in, and whether we will welcome him in return.
I have discovered that Advent is not just about the coming of Christ, it is about the coming in of Christ. This small shift in our understanding can make a big difference - not only in the way we appreciate Christmas, but the way we live out the Christmas story every day of our lives in our interactions with others.
From all of this, I have created an advent journey for December, called Season of Sanctuary. In 25 short reflections, it considers the sanctuary aspects of the Christmas story as highlighted in the Bible. I ask myself not only what this means to me, but what it means to those in my community.
The gospel should shape our priorities, not the pace of the news cycle or the busyness of life
As one of many thousands of families around the country hosting Ukrainian refugees this year, I reflect on what it means to people fleeing war and celebrating their first Christmas separated from loved ones, to those who are on a journey they never expected this time last year.
If you would like to join me, you can sign up to receive a 2-minute inspirational video and short reading each day throughout Advent. I hope they will refresh, inspire and energise your soul, as they did mine.