Recently I heard a continuity announcer on the TV make the following comment:
‘And so the dreaded countdown begins…50 days to Christmas.’
It made me feel really sad.
I’m under no illusion that the run up to Christmas is a stressful time: we get overwhelmed with all there is to do; worried about whether we have the money to pay for it all; anxious about whether we will be able to buy the perfect gift; anxious about whether the recipient will accept or reject it…not to mention that for many people, Christmas is a time to feel extra lonely, extra poor or extra depressed about absent loved ones. But really, what have we done to ourselves and our society if the run up to Christmas is something to be dreaded? No wonder some have simply decided it’s easier to abandon the whole thing and act like Christmas has nothing to do with them. So much for it being the ‘most wonderful time of the year’!
But that’s not the way it should be. If you’re a Christian, the season is a celebration of God’s gift of his Son. But even if you’re not, surely Christmas can be a time of celebrating what really matters in life, rather than feeling despair because it’s all so stressful? So when it came to thinking about how I was going to continue my own journey through Simplify 7, I began to see that here was a perfect opportunity to try to simplify Christmas – using the season that is designed to get us there, ready to celebrate the feast, Advent.
The shops seem to have gone crazy with Advent calendars this year. Never mind the dizzying array of chocolate ones (most of which have NOTHING to do with Christmas!) I’ve seen a wide variety of calendars with cosmetics, foodie treats, candles… It seems the marketing people have spotted that most grown-ups have happy memories of Advent and that little piece of daily excitement that marks off the days of waiting until the big event. Again, I have to confess that I’m one of them – my own (candle filled) Advent calendar is ready and waiting in the cupboard!
Of course, they all start on the 1st December. But as far as the church is concerned, Advent is marked by the four Sundays before Christmas – so Advent Sunday this year is 27th November. And this is the date I have chosen to start the next month of Simplify 7.
As you know, if you’ve been following this little journey of mine, I’ve been fasting in one way or another and using this as a way to focus my thinking, my prayer and my actions to hopefully be more open to doing what God wants me to do. I confess I was struggling a bit when it came to Advent: unlike the other themes, there was nothing obvious to give up. But then I remembered.
Advent is actually the start of the liturgical year (the church calendar) which is something I didn’t know until relatively recently. It’s a season of preparation, like Lent. And what I dredged from my memory was the fact that, like Lent, Advent is traditionally a season of fasting. I checked my facts (thank you, Google) and discovered that this is indeed the case – but it’s a tradition that has fallen into disuse for the vast majority of Christians. And no wonder, given that most of us enjoy the whole festive period (which seems to get longer every year) as a time of feasting!
But I was drawn to the idea of the fast before the feast. I was drawn to the idea of really using Advent as a time to simplify what Christmas is really all about and make my own time of preparation more fruitful and (hopefully) less stressful.
Although it is a season of preparation, the characteristic note of Advent is expectation, rather than penitence. In this way it has a different mood from Lent. Commercial pressure has also made it harder to retain an appropriate sense of alert watchfulness in our anticipation of Christmas but, for many Christians, the Church’s preparation for the coming of Christ is a powerful reminder of the real meaning of the season.
(Church of England website)
I have always loved this season – despite, or perhaps because of, how busy it always seems to be. I’ve always loved the tradition of the Advent wreath and the symbolism of the candles as they light our way towards Christmas. When I was a teacher, it was something I loved sharing with the children I taught, hopefully passing on something of the real meaning of Christmas in amongst all the commercialism and tinsel. It’s something I am looking forward to sharing on this blog over the next few weeks.
But back to the fast. Given that so much of this month seems destined to be driven by tradition, it seemed right that the fast would be more traditional than any of the others I have so far undertaken. And so, rather than existing on just 7 foods, this time I am removing 7 foods from the menu. Yes, I know, this is a crazy time of the year to be doing it – I have at least half a dozen social events which will be impacted by this decision. For those that required menu choices in advance I have already struggled to make Simply 7 friendly decisions! But as I keep on saying: a fast isn’t meant to be convenient or comfortable.
So, from Sunday 27th November until Christmas Eve, I will not be consuming the following items:
- Cream (or ice-cream)
Please note, friends, there is a very high chance that this month of Simplify 7 will fail! Getting through the last four weeks of term in our office and avoiding chocolate, will be not much short of a miracle! But if Simplify 7 has shown me nothing else, it’s shown me that I am much more able to do without the things I love than I would have thought.
But a fast on its own is not what God requires. Thinking about the Christmas story and what it really has to say to us more than 2000 years later, with all that is currently going on in the world, it’s obvious that while ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out’ (John 1 v5) there is a real need to spread that light. So the other main focus of this month of Simplify 7 will be prayer.
I believe in the power of prayer – and I will probably write more on that in a future blog. There’s every chance my prayer will mean I have much more to say! That’s how it seems to work for me. So far, praying about month 4 of Simplify 7 has guided me to this point – and the call to use this month to pray some more, focusing on some of the themes that stand out for me from the Christmas story. You won’t be surprised to know there are 7 of them…but I will keep you waiting for now!