Most of you probably know that traditional Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. In the calendar of the church year, the twelve days refer to the days of feasting for the Christmas celebration, starting on Christmas Day, December 25th, and running until January 5th, the last day of the Christmas season. January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the coming of the wise men to visit Jesus, and the night before January 6th, the eve of the Epiphany, is traditionally known as ‘Twelfth Night’. In days gone by most people would not put up a Christmas tree or decorate their house for Christmas until Christmas Eve, and the decorations would then stay up for the twelve days of Christmas and come down on Twelfth Night. Some people had a ‘burning of the greens’ on Twelfth Night, when the Christmas tree and the holly and other Christmas greenery would be burned.
I’m a bit naïve, so it took me a few years to realise that the retail industry has completely revised this calendar – and they’ve done a very successful job of it. Many people in Canada now think that the twelve days of Christmas are the twelve shopping days before Christmas. Most people now put up their Christmas trees long before Christmas, and take them down a couple of days afterwards. A few years ago I was at a new year’s eve party organised by a friend. A lot of musicians were there and we were all playing songs together. I played ‘Good King Wenceslas’ and some people were quite surprised that I would do so, since, to them, Christmas was over. But I was only on the eighth night, you see!
This illustrates the fact that at this time of year we in the church are on a calendar that’s significantly different from the world around us. The world around us has been getting ready for Christmas for almost a month now – ever since the Halloween stuff disappeared from the stores, in fact. My copy of the Edmonton Journal has been getting thicker and thicker each day as the sale flyers are multiplying; the Christmas carols are playing in the stores, and the retail industry is ramping up for its busiest time of the year. All of it to do with sales, of course, and very little of it to do with the actual story of the birth of Jesus. The Christmas carols in the stores aren’t meant to get people thinking about the birth of Jesus; they’re meant to get us in the mood for spending lots of cash.
But in the church – at least, in the parts of the church that follow the traditional calendar of the church year – we’re beginning the season of Advent. Advent is all about the coming of the kingdom of God, and the coming of his Messiah who will bring in his kingdom. So in Advent we spend a lot of time in the Old Testament prophets. They looked around at all the sufferings of God’s people, and then they looked ahead to a time to come when God would rescue his people from evil and restore them to his original dream for them.
Some of those prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, and so yes, it’s true, Advent includes the note of preparation for Christmas – although the preparation is less about our need for the perfect gift idea and more about our need for a Saviour. But some of the prophecies have yet to be fulfilled, and so in Advent we also look ahead, to the day when Jesus will be revealed as Lord of heaven and earth, the day when the kingdom of God will be established on earth in all its fulness and, as one of the prophets says, the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Read the rest here.