As I was driving across Dartmoor early in November I drove past a pub with a large banner outside boldly declaring Christmas Season. My immediate reaction was, ‘but we aren’t even halfway through November, we haven’t got to Advent yet!’
It is so easy to think of December as the Christmas season. After all, town centre Christmas lights are usually switched on in November, the shops have been selling Christmas goods for weeks and Christmas dinner menus run throughout December in our local restaurants, but in the Church calendar the Christmas season begins at Christmas and most of December is the season of Advent.
How can we make space for Advent, a time of reflection and waiting, waiting patiently for the Nativity? It’s such a busy time as we dash from shop to shop, write cards and send presents, plan our parties and celebrations and look forward to spending quality time with our families. I love carol services, Crib services, Christmas tree festivals, concerts, Nativity plays, pantomimes and parties and, of course, the joy and excitement of my grandchildren as they wait for ‘Santa’, but in all our busyness it is so easy to forget why we are celebrating. Somehow we need to make space for God. We need to give God quality time too; after all without the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas, there would be no parties, no presents, no Christmas dinner and certainly no carol services.
To make space for God, some of us within the Mission Community are spending a day quietly reflecting at Buckfast Abbey. I love spending time there and the drive across the moor is all part of the day. It’s part of the journey, a sort of pilgrimage. The time of quiet, whilst enjoying the countryside (unless the mist is down) is time well spent, preparing for a special time with God, our God who is delighted when we set aside time to be in his presence.
It was on a short visit to the Abbey that I passed the pub declaring the Christmas season. I wanted to go into the Abbey church and sit quietly in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel but first I enjoyed looking at one of my favourite trees. I love the Monterey Pine growing in the centre of a flowerbed between the church and the restaurant in the grounds of the Abbey. There is a notice from the head gardener in front of it which intrigues me, it begins like this:
The area has been re-designed to prevent compaction of the tree roots (Monterey Pine).
The notice then goes on to list the types of bulb that are planted in the flowerbed, flowers that won’t choke the roots of the pine. The roots need space to provide sufficient nourishment for the tree to flourish.
It reminds me of Jesus’s parable of the sower where only the seed that fell on good ground grew up to bear fruit. That’s a parable about the word of God and how, so often, we fail to listen to it. Sometimes we take no notice. Other times we are delighted by what we hear, but then times get difficult and we forget, or become distracted by all the other things that are going on which get in the way. That’s why it’s good to make an effort to give time to be with God, to strengthen our roots, to allow him to nourish us through the word of God and refresh us with spiritual living water. St Paul in his letter to the Colossian Christians wrote:
Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col 2:6-7 (NIV)
Our lives need to be firmly rooted in Jesus. It’s important to give him quality time, so sometimes I like to go somewhere special so I can really focus. The monks of Buckfast Abbey offer the space and peaceful setting I need to become more rooted in Jesus and I am pleased they are also seeking to provide the right environment for their Monterey Pine to flourish too!
In the run up to Christmas please make space for Jesus; it’s time well spent.
Hazel Butland (Reader)