The Christian period of Advent is the focus of this primary assembly, suitable for all religions, which then examines the emotions of anticipation, patience and excitement that come with waiting for a notable event
An Advent calendar – or preferably a selection, some religious, some not. And/or you’ll find good virtual ones on the web – this one from Finland for example.
Or this from the International Children’s Site Uptoten.com.
But if you or children have time to search “virtual advent calendar”, you may well find something you like better.
Who has an Advent calendar at home? Can anyone explain what an Advent calendar is? [Discuss and look at the calendars you have with you.]
But what is “Advent”? What does it mean?
In one way it’s simple – the word means “coming” or “arrival”. The time of Advent, which we measure or tick off by opening our Advent calendars each day, is a time when we watch or wait for something that’s coming.
So what is it that’s coming? What are we waiting for as we gradually work our way through our Advent calendar?
Yes, many of us are waiting for Christmas. And to a Christian, of course, that means waiting for the birth of Jesus.
In the Christian church, Advent is marked by four Sundays, which are called the first, second, third and fourth Sundays in Advent. The first Sunday in Advent has to happen between 27th November and 3rd December, so this year it fell on 30 November. This year, the other four Sundays are on the 7th, 14th and 21st December. On each of those Sundays, Christians pray and think about the coming of the baby Jesus.
Advent is a Christian tradition, of course, but people of other faiths often enjoy Christmas, too, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have an Advent calendar. It’s a good way to mark out the passing of the days to Christmas. In a way it sort of “measures out” the excitement – it spreads it out a bit and keeps it under control. And, of course, each individual opening of a window on the calendar gives us a little bit of excitement – a good moment in the day.
Today, let’s think about waiting – about what it’s like when we’re waiting for something good to happen. And to help us to think, we’ll hear this story about a family who were waiting for something very very special.
Shana’s mum was sitting on the sofa half watching the TV and half reading when she suddenly jumped.
“Ouch!” She said. “You kicked me!”
Shana, curled up on the chair opposite her mum, looked around. There was nobody there.
“Who kicked you, Mum?” she said. And then, before her mum could answer, she realised she knew the answer already.
“The baby! The baby that’s in your tummy kicked you didn’t it? Does it hurt?”
Shana’s mum laughed.
“It doesn’t hurt really. It’s just a shock. The baby’s been moving around for many weeks now, but it’s getting stronger every day.”
Shana pretended to be angry. She looked towards her mum’s big tummy and shook her finger. “Don’t you kick my Mummy, you,” she said.
Mum laughed and held her arm out for Shana to come and cuddle in beside her.
“Talk gently to the baby, Shana – go on.”
So Shana put her head close to her mum’s tummy and said.
“Baby, I know you’re getting stronger, but I want you to be careful about kicking my mum. OK?”
Then Shana looked up at her Mum.
“Can the baby hear me?” she said.
“Oh, I think so,” said Mum. “But I think it’s probably like when we go swimming and when your head is under the water – you can still hear people shouting and talking on the edge of the pool but it’s sort of far away and muffled. I think it might be like that. But there’s no reason not to talk to our baby. Your dad and I do all the time, and you can, too.”
“Tell me again when the baby will come.” said Shana.
“The baby will come when the baby is good and ready,” said Mum. “It’s been a long wait so far – all through the summer and the autumn, and now we’re into the winter. So there’s no point being impatient.”
“I get excited, though,” said Shana.
“It’s OK to get excited when you’re waiting for something really important to happen,” said Mum.
“I think about the baby, and what she’ll look like…”
“It might be a ‘he’,” said Mum. “We chose not to know whether it’s a he or she. We just want to wait and see.”
“Something else to look forward to,” said Shana. “Anyway, I think about the baby, and I think about holding him – or her – and I can sort of feel the weight in my arms. And I get really really excited and I feel like I can’t wait for the baby to come.”
“But,” said Mum, “no matter how impatient and excited you get, you can’t hurry things along. The baby will come in its own time. So in order to stop being impatient, what I’ve been doing is taking one step at a time.”
“What do you mean?” said Shana.
“All the way along my pregnancy, there’s been something to do next – a visit to the doctor, shopping for baby things, writing to people to tell them what was happening. Each event was something to concentrate on – one thing after another on the calendar. So I kept my mind on those things one at a time, and the baby, of course, took care of herself.”
“Or himself,” said Shana.
“Right,” said Mum. “Or himself.”
“But not long now,” said Shana.
“Not long now,” said Mum. “Which is why, at last, I’ve begun to allow myself to really look forward to my baby.”
“Tell me about that,” said Shana.
Mum cuddled Shana a bit nearer.
“Like you, I imagine the weight of our baby in my arms. I can smell that lovely clean baby smell, and see that little face and those tight shut eyes, and those tiny hands, just big enough to grip one of my fingers tightly. I can feel the warmth of our baby on my body.”
Mum stopped, and wiped away a tear with her free hand.
“Now you know why I didn’t like to do too much looking forward,” she said. “It’s a very strong feeling, and I had to sort of keep it stored up.”
“Till now,” said Shana.
They were quiet for a moment. Then Shana said.
“It will be my baby too, right Mum?”
Mum gave Shana a squeeze. “Oh yes,” she said. “It is our baby – yours, your dad’s and mine. This baby will be very much loved.”
Shana was quiet again, and Mum knew what she was thinking, because Mums usually do.
“But you know, Shana,” said Mum. “We will love you just as much. The baby will take a lot of my time, but every time I see my baby I will also see you in my mind, and when you are at school I will talk to our baby and say, ‘Shana is busy at school, but she is thinking of you, and soon she will be here again.’ And soon the time will come when I will say to the baby, ‘Where is Shana?’ and the baby will smile and look around for you. When you see that, you will know that there is more than enough love here for all of us.”
Shana sighed and spoke again to the baby in her mum’s tummy.
“Well, our baby,” she said. “We really want to see you, and we’ve waited and waited. I think you’ll like us when you meet us. But please try not to kick my mum so hard.”
Mum laughed, and Shana laughed, and Mum gave Shana a big squeeze.
Shana pulled away.
“I’m going to make you a cup of tea now, Mum,” she said.
“Good girl,” said Mum. “What a brilliant idea.”
Waiting can be difficult, and sometimes we need to break the waiting up into separate bits, like Shana’s mum did. Waiting for Christmas is like that. Instead of just sitting there and jumping about and hoping Christmas will come, we break the waiting up – there are things to do, concerts to prepare for, cards to write. And, of course there’s the Advent calendar that marks out the days for us, one by one.
Lord, we wait for the coming of Christmas with feelings of joy and excitement. As we wait, may we remember all that we have to do along the way, and may we always remember those people for whom this is a lonely and sad time. And, at this special time, please be with all those families who are waiting for a new arrival, as Mary and Joseph awaited the arrival of the baby Jesus.
Waiting is a part of life. Learning to deal with it is part of growing up.
There’s good material on Advent at Culham College Institute’s site
This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008
About the author: Gerald Haigh