Although, culturally, our new year starts every First of January, the new year for the Christian
cycle of worship actually starts with the First Sunday of Advent, and that time is now upon
us. It is worth pointing out because, interestingly, although traditionally we cite New Year’s
Day as a moment of new beginning — what with our resolutions and in the like — in fact, it
comes right at the end of our mid-winter festivities. New Year’s Day is, in reality, the day we
recover from the previous evening’s excitement (and, often enough, its alcohol!). This then
leads on into a rather bleaker month than the one which preceded it — January, when all the
festive lights start going out, and everybody goes back to the normal routine, but the cold
weather promises to stick around for several more weeks.
By contrast, Advent is filled with expectation of a great thing coming — and not only a great
thing, but indeed the most important New Beginning of all: God himself comes into the
world. Of course, Christians — or at least clergy! — so often complain that Christmas is too
ready to jump the gun these days, that with all the visual and auditory stimulus around the
season, we too easily lose sight of Advent as a reflective moment when we can turn from
what ails us towards the long-promised Saviour. But that, actually, has never been my
Although Advent and Lent both have a common theme of turning away from human
imperfections and towards God for healing, I do not and cannot think of Advent as simply
another Lent. Lent is designed for hard-core penitence (and there is and should be a place
for that in the Christian year). And perhaps, given that we proclaim “Peace on Earth,
Goodwill to All” at Christmastime, there is real value when we recognise in Advent that,
through much of the year, we are not as much at peace as perhaps we ought to be.
But I still believe that the purple of Advent, which calls us to reflection, is a lighter shade
than the purple of Lent. The readings of Advent speak not only of Christ’s arrival at
Christmas, a prophecy of salvation and joy on the cusp of its fulfilment, but of Christ’s
coming again to call his Kingdom into completion. Lent is an extraordinary moment of
sorrow (which will, of course, be washed away at Easter); but, by comparison, Advent is
rather an extraordinary moment of promise.
To my mind, the Christmas excitement and expectation of the secular and commercial world
is not The Great Advent Invader, but quite the opposite. The simple fact is that Christmas
will always be on the 25th of December — which is to say: it cannot invade anything.
Christmas is fixed, and the countdown to the day of celebration is precisely why people
almost shake with anticipation — freely, and with abandon. If anything, I think that grumpy
clerics who bemoan the supposed loss of Advent are failing to take advantage of the fact
that — unlike during the rest of the year — people are actually open to hearing our message
of Good News. The trick for us is, in fact, to be excited as everyone else is — and then to
give that excitement a name: Jesus of Nazareth, “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
Advent is our true New Year because it is only here that we recognise that all of this joy is
still to come — but also sure to come. We hear it as we tell the story of Christ’s birth, and
as we promise his return. So reflect, yes, indeed — but look forward to the celebration, and
look forward with abandon.