‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7.14).
I wonder how many of you remember the old credit card advert, offering us the kind of instant credit that “takes the waiting out of wanting”? With the Christmas adverts already filling our screens and mince pies having been in the supermarkets since the end of August, the world around us shows no signs of waiting for Christmas and every sign of wanting more food, more drink, more new technology, more ‘stuff’. Yet, within the Christian journey, waiting is an essential part of our seasonal preparations.
The words quoted above are read at many a Christmas carol service as we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. However, it is easy for us to forget that the events that we remember at this time of year did not come about by chance. The prophet, Isaiah, who predicted that the birth of a child would bring about the salvation of the world, lived some 740 years before Jesus’ birth. God’s people had spent many centuries believing that the Messiah would come and they had to wait another seven centuries before those events of the first Christmas came to pass.
It is this period of waiting that is reflected in our season of Advent within the church’s calendar. From the beginning of December, we are encouraged to hold off rushing into all the festivities and to reflect on what it means to wait. We have readings from the Bible about those people who were waiting for Jesus’ birth, including Isaiah, and about people preparing the way for him to come into the world. In reflecting on these stories together, we take time to prepare our own hearts to hear once again the message of Christmas: that Jesus Christ has been born into the world so that we might come to know God for ourselves. And with that invitation to meet the living God comes the need for us to wait and to prepare. For me personally, that means making sure that there is enough space in my diary during December to stop, to take time, to reflect and to pray about what Christmas really means. Of course, there are practical preparations to be made, both for church and my own family. Yet, more importantly for me, when Christmas finally comes, I want to know that I am ready to welcome Christ afresh into my heart. Then, and only then, will I celebrate His coming, keeping the full twelve days of Christmas that begin on Christmas Eve.
Now, I’m well aware that this can all sound very strange when compared with the Christmas rush and the media’s desire to panic us all into buying more than ever and as early as possible. But I have come to know that learning to wait, adopting the discipline to seek stillness in our own hearts, is truly a way of peace. Perhaps, you too might try, with me, to take some time each day through Advent just to sit quietly and think about what Christmas really means for you.
May the Peace of the Christ-child be with you this Christmas.
Rev. Laura Dalton