This is the time of year when many clergy remind their congregations that Christmas does not begin until Christmas Day. We are celebrating Advent, they say, a time of waiting and preparation. Beware the tinsel and tawdry of the commercial Xmas being celebrated all around; defy those who would wish us ‘Happy Holidays’; be glum, O citizens of heaven to come. In other words, either retreat to a monastery or a desert island, or show yourself to be exactly what non-Christians tend to think of us as being: party-poopers, bubble-busters, withered old prunes. It’s difficult to square that with the joy that informs every moment of Advent. We are waiting, but with a glad knowledge that our hope will be fulfilled. Our silence is luminous, our darkness shot through with diamond-points of light. How can a ‘bah humbug’ response to those who don’t quite ‘get’ what Advent is lead anyone to want to discover for him/herself what we mean by the coming of salvation?
Today the Church sets before us Isaiah 11. 1–10. Every year I find something new in it to ponder. This morning I was struck by how often the prophet refers to wisdom, insight, and right judgement. That, surely, is the clue to living Advent while everyone around us appears to be celebrating the strange feast of Xmas. We don’t need to decry the commercialism or the shallowness. They should act as a spur to our prayer that all may come to know and love the Lord. We can, and should, continue to ponder the scriptures and prepare ourselves for the coming of the great King. Nothing that happens outside us can really affect what goes on within. So, accept the mulled wine and mince pies, out of season though they be, smile at the fake snow and the hideous jazzed up rhythms of piped carols; be anything but a moaner and a grumblepot. No one will know that we live by a different calendar; but they will know that we are joyful, with a joy that cannot be taken from us. In the words of today’s gospel, Luke 10.21-24, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’ Happy — blessed — indeed!