Advent Firesiders

SOS for Advent (2017)

As the Christian Church in the West retreats in the face of a commercial Christmas onslaught, never was Advent more needed than it is now.

Ever since Santa Claus appeared in his red garb on a Coca Cola advert in 1931 the commercial forces against Advent have become progressively more successful such that it has all but disappeared from the common consciousness, making the "Twelve Days of Christmas" an anachronism. But this is not just a matter of commercial aggression, recently fuelled by the import from America of Black Friday at the end of November, it is symptomatic of a culture of instant gratification exemplified in general by the explosion of outrageous self-expression on social media and in particular by the current wave of disclosures about the use of power to obtain sexual gratification over which there has been a good deal of hand wringing and heart searching without any consideration of the root cause.

Under such pressure, we can hardly blame the Church for giving way and pre-loading all its Christmas celebrations - carol concerts, nativity plays and Christingles - with Christmas day as the short-lived climax of febrile preparation but a little more contemplative tempering would be no bad thing. Civilisation depends upon delayed gratification which in turn depends upon individual resolve which is surely entitled to Christian support. There really is no point in advocating such virtue in theory while ignoring it in practice; people need help to resist the worst excesses of our contemporary culture rather than implicit approval.

And, as if a general complicity were not enough, many churches have abandoned the Lectionary, eroding further the status of Advent, not to mention the almost complete disappearance of Lent, removing the contrast of lows and highs on which the effectiveness - psychological as well as theological - of living the Christian drama depends.

It might be hard to be penitent, symbolised in the three purple Advent candles - while the rest of the world is having a fine old time but that is what we are called upon to be so that we are in a fit state to welcome Jesus into his threadbare birthplace; or we shall otherwise not so much live his birth as view it in much the same light as the traditional pantomime, as a pretty, make-believe story with picturesque shepherds and Herod the baddy, where all ends happily ever after.