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By Elaine Bardwell - Posted on 27 November 2010

 I always feel exhilarated at this time in the Church's Year - it is not just that Advent is the first season in the Calendar and that we are on the brink of beginning the observance of so many great Christian themes for the coming 12 months. Nor is it because it is time to dig out my famous purple boots once again. No, it is because Advent is packed with so many delights both within the liturgy and beyond.
Already I am looking forward to opening the first door on my Advent Calendar - I found a brilliant one several years ago which is a cardboard faux medieval castle tower and it has 'extras'. First of all it has the conventional 1 to 24 doors to open and then in addition carries on right up to Epiphany on 6th January. It also has double doors to open for all the Sundays of the Advent and Christmas season. It is big enough to put a candle (if very careful) or lamp inside it so that some of the open windows take on the effect of stained glass windows. What is more the sequence of images follow the Calendar so for example, on 6th December there will be St Nicholas and on the 7th my constant companion these days, Ambrose of Milan. 
I have not as yet succumbed to those Advent Calendars with chocolates behind every door - which seems to me to cut across the idea of Advent as a fasting period as we prepare for the full on feasting when Christmas does arrive. Let's face it we get more than enough opportunities to pre empt the feasting season with the various 'Christmas lunches' and 'Christmas dinners' laid on by many groups nowadays. I can tell you I shall be in danger of looking like a turkey or a mince pie before 24th December arrives! But I am not complaining - these are also seasonal reminders that Christmas is coming albeit mostly secular ones. But something important is going on which is entirely right and that is a celebration of communities and an acknowledgement of connection with those we work alongside or engage with regularly. Yes, in the past the singing of carols and feasting would not have begun until Christmas Eve but the essential goodwill of it all remains and that surely is important?
But I do want to draw you back to Advent with its own storehouse of goodies - in church and school we have an Advent crown: 5 candles which we light in succession as the weeks go by and more lights are lit as the days get shorter and Christmas comes nearer. I was always envious of those children who were actually allowed to get out the coat hangers and make the Blue Peter version. I still get a thrill when we light the one in the middle - Christmas has finally arrived! Then there's the Advent music - it is a season unsurpassed for fantastic hymns like 'Wake, O wake with tidings thrilling' and 'Lo, he comes with clouds descending' and 'On Jordan's bank' - well I could go on but you get the idea. The Advent Prose with its plangent refrain 'Drop down ye heavens' or in the original Latin 'Rorate caeli' is hauntingly beautiful and one of the musical/prayer highlights of the year. And I haven't even mentioned the great 'O" Antiphons but perhaps they will get an entry on the website to themselves!
So. let's enjoy it all -  the Christmas in advance elements as we enjoy the school Nativity play or Carol services or even the canned versions playing in the shops. Let's enjoy the glitter of the decorations in houses and along the streets. Let's enjoy the more creative shop displays too. Simple pleasures and all for free. Let's get into the spirit of generosity and caring for one another, including strangers and visitors. All of this, in its way, is about getting ready  - but getting ready for what?
Well that is precisely what the Sunday Advent liturgies will be exploring - the great themes of existence such as what happens when we die? Or how should we live? And then we shall also be exploring: Who is John the Baptist? How to prepare and welcome Christ into our hearts and lives? Where to find peace in the midst of this consumer fest? What does Mary's 'Let it be' signify? Let's find out through our readings and hymns this Advent - for me the adventure begins tonight at 9pm with our first candlelit Compline - or Night Prayer  when we shall sing those beautiful words before and after the Canticle Nunc Dimittis  - 'Preserve us, O Lord, whilst waking. And guard us whilst sleeping. That awake we may watch with Christ and asleep may rest in peace.' I will be praying for a blessed and peaceful Advent to everyone.



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