It is a bit odd for me to be talking about Christmas when it is still almost two months away. As the shops become more frenzied with Christmas sales, I encourage you to map your own calendar differently, to the one used by the marketing campaigns of the retail industry.
The book of Ecclesiastes chapter three, invites us to reflect on time. “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” The Christians of ancient times reflected on calendars and times and the work of God, and so they designed a “seasonal” calendar for the “Church Year” based on the life and work of our Lord Jesus. That is a good focus for the soul.
Of course Christmas is one of those seasons which celebrates the birth of Jesus as the Saviour of the world, so we share a tremendous blessing in this country, that Christians are free to celebrate the Lord’s nativity. But marketing has overwhelmed the journey to the manger with seemingly endless sales campaigns.
But between now and Christmas, Christians of ancient times gave us three key “times” to prepare us for the Lord’s birth at Bethlehem, so that we can work through the questions of “why” he came to earth and “how” that brings peace to us.
The first of these three is “Christ the King” Sunday. This is the last Sunday of the Church year and is Sunday 25 November . The core focus of this day is “the end of all time” when the Lord Jesus returns as king to judge the living and the dead. This special festival is the annual reminder that our times are in the hands of the one who went to the cross for us and that one day, the material things around us will all pass away.
The second of these three is the Advent Season. This begins on Sunday 3 December and some of our Lutheran Congregations will hold an “Advent Evening” to mark the beginning of Advent. Advent, when the colours in the Church buildings turn to purple, is the season to reflect on the message of Christmas, to prepare ourselves for the “why”. Jesus was not simply a baby in a manger, but the Saviour of the world. He comes at Christmas to begin his journey to the cross at Calvary, where he will take upon himself our sin: yours and mine.
The third and final of these three is actually Christmas Eve. This special worship time has been designed to strengthen Christian hope. We meet in the evening, anticipating the “morning Good News”. To hear the hope-filled proclamation of the Angels: Unto you is born in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Christmas Eve reminds us that we are not cosmic orphans who live alone in a distant corner of the universe. God is with us.
These three special “times’ are opportunities to map our way through the Christmas marketing frenzy. Many people don’t put up decorations until Advent begins. Some people only put the baby in the manger in their nativity on Christmas day. Some people use Advent to put aside money to charity organisations such as Australian Lutheran World Service.
I encourage you to use these three “times” in whatsoever way you are able to, to draw close to the Christmas manger with your eyes looking away from the cleverness of the marketing of this season, to be focused on the ‘baby in the manger’ with his loving hands outstretched towards you.