This Sunday we begin with the Advent season; the beginning of the church year. Each week leading up to Christmas, has traditionally had a theme associated with it. The first Sunday usually focuses on the idea of hope. This is a time of preparation; of expectation for what is to come.

Oh, how shall I receive thee, how meet thee on thy way?

I think many of us are weary of the excesses associated with Christmas in our culture. Weary of the seemingly never ending season of shopping, music and decoration that precedes this annual event. I find myself having quite mixed feelings about Christmas and Advent. On the one hand, I grow tired of hearing Jingle Bells over and over and over. On the other, there is something kind of magical about a six or seven year old being so excited by the ability to perform this simple song. Maybe there is a lesson there for me. There is hope to be found in the innocent excitement that children exhibit at this time of year. A reminder of anticipation in its joyful potential.

Hope can be found in such small things, especially when we are children. But as we grow, experience and learn of all that is difficult in our world, it becomes more challenging. Yet, the Advent season can be a time to consider that there is something greater than our decorations that can carry us through.

Oh, love beyond all telling, that led thee to embrace,
in love, all love’s excelling, our lost and troubled race.

Clearly this hymn is speaking of the impending arrival of Jesus. His birth represents the ultimate gift given by God. There is hope for all of us in this concept of love being a driving force to carry us through whatever troubles we encounter. And, it is not limited to those who believe the specifics of the Christian story. The examples of God’s love, a gift given as a selfless act and the good will associated with it, are powerful. We are all able to consider how this can influence our festive spirits. What do we give to this world with our activities over the next four weeks? Do the gifts we share, the music we sing, the gatherings we attend bring loving hope?

As I prepare for Christmas, and listen to yet another version of Jingle Bells, I desire to do so in the spirit of trying to be a beacon of hope. Probably fairly difficult. But I sense it will temper the chaos and glitter I see all around me. And, maybe, someone I cross paths with will find themselves encouraged.

Thou comest, Lord, with gladness, in mercy and good will,
to bring an end to sadness and bid our fears be still.