How is Christmas Different This Year?

Have you ever counted the number of Christmases you have celebrated in church before? In last Sunday’s sermon, Pr Hui Ru pointed out that many of us have gone through quite a number of Christmases as Christians; we have sung the same old Christmas carols and heard the same old Advent passages read and preached, so much so that there is nothing new to us. We find ourselves no longer gleaning any new insights from the sermons and carols, and our hearts are no longer moved by Christ’s incarnational love for us. The period of Advent that we observe in church becomes for us simply the lead-up to the day called Christmas, much like the build-up of the festive spirit through the lights and decorations down the rest of Orchard Road, climaxing on Christmas Day with parties and celebrations.

However, when early Christians first observed Advent, they were anticipating the return of Christ, not his birth. “Advent spirituality is not a time to meditate on the actual birth of Christ. According to tradition, we ought not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas itself, for Advent is not a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the manger but a time to long for the coming of the Saviour,” Robert E. Webber wrote in Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. In that perspective, we come to understand Advent and Christmas differently: a looking-forward rather than just a celebration of what’s past. Just like the Old Testament saints’ long-suffering expectation of the Messiah coming to redeem them, we find ourselves eagerly waiting for His return as King to fully usher in His glorious Kingdom. And like the first Advent, it happens against the backdrop of the darkness and distress we find our world presently in.

But just as surely the First Advent came to past, the Second Advent will happen. And we can look to the one true light—Christ Jesus, the Son of God. In the waiting we find ourselves in, it is not that there is nothing for us to do; there is much for us to do. Let us prepare our longing hearts for that Day of joyous celebration. In the waiting, let us prepare ourselves in penitential reverence and disciplined discipleship that we may be found ready for the Second Advent.