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This season of Advent, more than any other season in the church year, is about time; Advent places Christ in the context of time. We reflect on the long march of time that has led up to the incarnation of God in Christ, and we reflect on the great future that stems from that incarnation.
So let’s think about the long march of time leading up to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem: and in that long preparation I would want to include the evolution of species such as ourselves with sufficiently advanced mental capacities for that incarnation to be possible – and then the formation of a particular nation – the Jewish people – in whom the ground was further prepared for the birth of Jesus, a people in whom great prophets like Isaiah played an important role, a people shaped by historical events, like the exile in Babylon and their dream of returning to Jerusalem to build their temple there.
But advent isn’t only about the timeline that surrounds the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, because the incarnation is not just a once only event – it’s also about the birth of Christ in each one of us, and in society as a whole, in the church, in wider society. And when Christmas comes, we will sing that lovely carol O little town of Bethlehem – with that crucial line, ‘Be born in us today’. So advent is not only about how the long march of time prepared for Jesus of Nazareth; it is also about our past, and how we can use our past to prepare for the birth of Jesus within us.
And if we are going to prepare for the birth of Jesus within us, we have to come to terms with our past, to heal our past, to reshape our past. And the past for all of us is a mixture of good and bad. We all of us look back on our past with mixed emotion; no-one has a past that is all bad, but equally most of us don’t have a past which is all good either – we look back on it with some regret and sadness. And it’s perhaps good that it should be so; life would be rather monochrome if it were otherwise…