Christmas trees in supermarkets already. Butchered carols assail our ears in butchery sections. ‘Isn’t it terrible to have Christmas things so early. We have Easter bunnies right after Christmas, and Christmas is upon us as soon as the schools are back. What’s the world coming to?’ It seems to escape their notice that the reason they went to the supermarkets in the first place was to do their planning-for-Christmas shopping. Here I am already planning Carol Services, thinking about readers and music and how to involve the community. I wouldn’t dream of criticizing others for milking Christmas and Easter since that’s exactly what I do. On the odd occasion that I go to supermarkets with Christmas carol muzak, I thank the Lord for being deaf.
I hear that some clergy deplore the disappearance of Advent. Do they imagine that their darling flocks prepare for Christmas by a strict Advent discipline of penitence and reflection? Perhaps they think this is what goes on in Lent too. With the pressure of modern life, child rearing, jobs, bills to be paid, creaky joints etc, I think if you manage to make church most weeks, you’re doing pretty well in preparing for Christmas. I try to keep Sunday mornings in Advent as Advent services. Patriarchs, prophets, John Baptist, Mary. (Can anyone tell me the point of Jesse trees? Where do people keep all the bits and pieces for the rest of the year? And do they remember where they put them last year?)
The world is as it is. If we don’t like it, we can try to change it, move somewhere where things are better, or accept it. If we don’t like the effect of supermarkets on communities, or the way they treat their suppliers, what are we going to do about it? Moaning is pointless. If we want our pension funds (hollow laughter) to support us in the future, we need to be careful about attacking the commercial concerns in which the funds are invested. When I was silly enough to have a romantic view of what church was about, I used to think that it must be lovely to be a monk, free from worldly hassle. Then I got to know some monastic communities. They are as full of tension and squabbles as life out here, with the added joy of living cheek-by-jowl. No wonder monks are so often guest speakers elsewhere. One of them told me that religious communities consist of people who can’t hack the real world. Maybe the church is too: some young idealistic ordinands seem to think that all they need is the knowledge that Jesus loves them. Parochial life as an ordained minister will soon test that.
Are we going to try to change the world? Bankers’ bonuses, political corruption, cronyism, begrudgery. These are just extreme forms of things that affect us all, the demons of avarice, of envy, and that which incites us to seek the approval of others whose approval is not worth having. Even so, I can’t help feeling that ‘something must be done’ as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. (Rambling Rector bucks the trend here: every job change over the last decade has resulted in a pay reduction.) I wonder—seriously—about Gandhi’s idea of calling for days of prayer and fasting. The fact that some may call them national strikes is neither here nor there.