Walking through our local shopping centre in the last week of October, two things caused me to pause.
Firstly, the massive Christmas tree was already taking pride of place in the centre’s main court and Santa’s chair was being prepared to hopefully welcome countless small children in the coming weeks. This has become the norm in our commercial world. Halloween is barely over before the Christmas decorations appear, and the hot cross buns are on the shelves before the tinsel is removed.
The second thing that stood out was the impact of the pandemic. Wandering into a shop for a simple browse or stopping for a coffee has become complicated. Hand sanitisation is required upon entering every shop and then there is the embarrassment of having to admit that you don’t know how to get your phone to read the QR code in order for you to take a place at the table.
The Christmas traditions of the commercial world don’t seem to have changed much, but the world in which we live has.
As this season of preparation for Christmas begins in our Catholic tradition, I sense there will be some things that won’t change, but some will.
There will be a Christmas Mass, but will everyone who wants to attend in person be able to? How many of us will watch a live-streamed Christmas Mass instead? There will probably be Christmas carols, but will we be able to pelt them out at the top of our voices? We will gather, but possibly virtually rather than physically.
A series of devastating weather events and COVID-19 have changed our world and changed us. Christmas will not be the same for the majority of people who choose to celebrate it. But as devastating as these events have been, the truth is that every year we change and the world around us changes. We are not the same as last year, and nor are the people around us. Sickness and good health, life and death, successes and failures, joys and disappointments will flavour how we experience Christmas each and every year.
In some ways COVID-19 could be something that unites us. Like a world war or the Great Depression, we will all have our stories to tell about how the events of 2020 have shaped our lives.
The big question is: will we be able to identify where God has been with us in these events?
Food for the Advent journey
One of the many great gifts our Catholic tradition offers are the seasons of the liturgical year. The season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, with the first Sunday marking the beginning of the Church’s year.
It is both a time for looking back and looking forward.
We look back to when God entered our world in human form as the child Jesus. And we look forward to when God will return at the end of time. We profess this belief at Mass when we pray in the Nicene Creed:
“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.”
Advent and Christmas should be about hope and joy. So, despite the challenges in our lives, we must let it sink into our hearts that God is with us – which is the very meaning of Emmanuel. Advent might be the time for the practical preparations for Christmas, but it is also the time for spiritual preparation.
So, pause. Seek out a few moments of silence for yourself this Advent so as to allow the Christ-child to speak into your heart. God is with us. God is with you.
Wishing you the joy and peace of Christmas
The Catholic Enquiry Centre team
Words: Sharon Brewer
Advent Wreath: Lightstock
Man sitting on log: Unsplash, Ben White
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.