In 2006 and 2007 Susan and I took a five-day break in late November to Germany. Some of the attractions of Germany at this time of year are the Christmas markets, with fairs and stalls laid out in the town square, often in the shadow of a great church. Christmas lights twinkle, and traditional music mingles with the aroma of wine being mulled and meat being grilled as we, sustained by delicious German sausages, wander increasingly waywardly (mulled wine) amongst the stalls displaying handiwork from Central and Eastern Europe. It reminds me just how many of ‘our’ Christmas traditions are, in fact, Central European in origin. One of the customs that we’ve lost is that of waiting until Boxing Day to open our presents. I’m one of the world’s most impatient people, so I say this not as a killjoy, but rather because a bit of waiting, however painful, increases the joy. And it’s waiting that the four weeks before Christmas are all about: the season of Advent, Latin ad venire meaning ‘coming towards’, the period we wait for Christ’s coming to us. We are waiting for a guest, an eagerly expected visitor. Unfortunately, this sense of waiting with mounting excitement has been all but lost to us in what the media call the ‘run up to Christmas’ – planning presents, trees, food, booze, frenetic activity, much of it fuelled by the children’s media. Even the church in so many places is caught up in this as Carol Services are held well before Christmas, as if to get them out of the way. Advent is obliterated.
I encourage you, if possible, to take some time out in December, maybe just a minute or two here and there, for stocktaking and refreshment. For waiting, in fact. For relaxing. At Christmas we celebrate having been shown the way to live as the Divine comes to us: ‘God became what we are, in order that we may become what God is.’ The glory of God is a human life lived to the full, when our deep joy meets the world’s deep need. If, like me, you long for a bit of peace and quiet before Christmas, don’t feel bad about taking time out.