A few weeks ago, I popped into a local garden centre to buy a friend a rather last-minute birthday present. It just so happened to be the weekend that the garden centre had opened its Christmas section, or should I say Christmas …… well I am not quite sure how to describe it .. a mansion, a cathedral, or warehouse, an extravaganza… or… I’ve never seen anything on quite that scale.
There were artificial snow-covered trees that would never have fitted through the doorway of an ordinary house, rows of soft toy Christmas mice dressed as elves that were the size of a five year old, lights that would have dwarfed the Blackpool illuminations, gift boxes of food and drink that cost over £50 for a handful of items and it went on and on and on in every direction you looked, accompanied by upbeat Christmas pop songs of “here comes Santa Claus here comes Santa Claus…”
I never did manage to find my friend a birthday present that day because I just stopped as I thought is this what Christmas has become – a festival of spending more and more money on things we do not need and things that are destroying one another and our planet?
How is this the good news?
How is this good news when many of us cannot afford food to put on the table each day let alone think how we might afford to put on a Christmas spread?
How is this good news when many of us cannot afford to heat our homes, let alone afford the extra electricity for Christmas lights?
How is this good news for many of us who have no home to call our own, let alone somewhere to deck out with tinsel and baubles and Christmas table sets?
How is this good news when many of us are being arrested for activism to raise the issue of climate justice when energy and natural resources are used to make disposable Christmas decorations?
And as I stood before this glitzy monstrosity that claimed to be selling us Christmas I thought about what had been going on in our news headlines:
Of our Ukranian siblings facing a winter of power cuts and food shortages, missile strikes or of exile in other countries….
Of our Russian siblings being called up to fight in a war not of their own making or saying goodbye to loved ones in an effort to flee across borders….
Of our Iranian siblings protesting in the streets and in school playgrounds for the freedom of women and girls
Of our South Korean siblings mourning the death of their loved ones in the crush in Seoul on Halloween, of our Nigerian siblings mourning the death of loved one in flooding due to global warming, of our Indian siblings, mourning the death of loved ones in a bridge collapse..
And I could go on… the places and the people change, and some will have by the time this reflection is aired ,but the stories stay largely the same…
But what does any of this have to do with the season of advent? Well advent is a season of looking forward, of waiting for … the coming of the Christ child… the coming of God’s community, God’s way of being together … here on earth… a way of living together marked by justice, and by peace.
Some words from the book of Isaiah (from an Inclusive language version) that we tend to read at the beginning of advent:
The people walking in darkness
are seeing a brilliant light –
upon those who dwell in a land of deep shadows
light is shining!
For a child is born to us,
An heir is given to us,
Upon whose shoulders
government will rest.
This One shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, the Strength of God,
Eternal Protector, Champion of Peace,
This government, and this peace,
Will grow without end,
With David’s throne and realm
sustained with justice and fairness
now and forever…
For a child is born to us… we are waiting for a child… a child who will herald a new kind of community, a community of justice and of peace, a child who grows up to say that he has come to bring life, and life in all its fulness.
So this advent is not about filling our lives and our Christmas with stuff we don’t need and stuff we and our planet cannot afford….
It’s about working out what we value, who we value… it’s about challenging ourselves to expand that sense of value beyond ourselves and our families, to our neighbours, to those we see as other, those we see as different to ourselves, it is about going beyond the me and you, going beyond the us and them to the all-of-us-together, to the “we”.
And so, this advent, we begin a series of reflections led by the community of ministers in training, newly accredited ministers and tutors that make up Northern Baptist College reflecting of what it means to have life in all its fullness. We are filming this at our home base in Luther King House in Manchester, but our students, former students and staff are all based in communities, churches and chaplaincies from Alnwick down to London, North Wales to Lowestoft and so we have asked them, this advent, what it means for them, in their very different local communities and contexts to reflect on what it means when Jesus says: “I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness”.
Clara's reflection is taken from a series of reflections over on the fuelcast podcast. Follow the links below to watch each reflection.
Keep an eye out as we add link to upcoming reflections here and on social media.