Reigniting the Light of Christmas – Advent

John 1 says of Jesus, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. It continues on to say that Jesus is the “true light”. The run-up to Christmas is filled with lights – twinkling fairy lights, candles, lanterns, signs alight and flashing as businesses all compete for the attention of shoppers. Some of the lights are pleasant and cheery, some not so much. But none of them last. When the season is over they will all be taken away and we will be plunged into wintery darkness once again. But the “true light” that entered into our world long ago does not leave us. He still shines out in the darkness and we as His followers have a unique opportunity at Christmas to pull back the curtain of busyness, consumerism and false attempts at merry-making for the true Light to be seen in and through our lives.

Therefore we asked a few people to share with us over the next few weeks how they are personally reigniting the “true” light of Christmas in their own lives this year.
Crystal starts us off with how she is engaging with Advent more intentionally.

Advent – coming.

This simple word has lodged itself in my heart this year and has had me pondering. And has influenced my way of celebrating and engaging with Christmas.

I love Christmas, always have. I am always counting down the days until I can put up the tree and lights and then I try to keep them up as long as possible – until the poor tree is shrivelled and dried to half its original size!

But this year this word Advent has had me approaching the celebratory aspects of Christmas a bit more slowly. Yes, the tree is up – it hasn’t slowed me that much!

However, I have been more aware of the current darkness, pain, suffering, the deep bone weariness & exhaustion, frustrated restlessness, angry impatience, the quiet despairing resignation, and the deep, hungry yearning for hope in the world and in my friends and family. Therefore what Christmas truly represents has felt so important and I have not wanted to rush into the surface merry-making, but sit with the deeper truth of this season and let it sink into my being.

Shauna Niequist says, “There are years when the Christmas spirit is hard to come by, and it’s in those seasons when I’m so thankful for Advent. Consider it a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present to this season. Give up for a while your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for thin places, and for Advent, for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights. Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it’s been lost.

I am “falling open to Advent” through my homemade Advent calendar. Little envelopes hanging on a wee paper tree and in each envelope is the name of someone to pray for and send an encouraging note to.
Then I am reading this profound little daily Advent devotional by Walter Bruggemann called Celebrating Abundance.
In the silent early hours of each morning I make my cup of coffee, take that day’s name from the envelope, sit by the tree, and prayerfully read through the devotional, allowing the gentle whisper of Holy Spirit to do its work in my own heart before turning my prayers to the name scribbled on the bit of paper.

There has been no great moment of mind-blowing revelation. But rather a slowly building sense of quiet anticipation, an increased longing for Jesus and for His light to penetrate the darkness and struggle in which those I know and love and those I don’t know find themselves in at the moment. Because Advent is for these people especially. And so I look towards Christmas, anticipating that Light to come and fill what is empty, repair the broken and restore what has been lost.

Disruption: A Recipe for Grace

Kathryn Ritchie, who is presently interning with 24-7 Prayer Scotland, shares about a recent experience of God meeting her in His grace.

Photo creds: Ciara Menzies Photography

I have just returned from being on placement for my university postgrad, which meant leaving my city of Edinburgh and returning to my family home in the countryside of Perthshire for three weeks. This changed basically everything in my routine and lifestyle. Rather than working at my own pace, I was working 9-5. Rather than doing what I know, I was pushed out of my comfort zone – or something more akin to teaching a child to swim by chucking them in at the deep end, hoping they learn fast!

But more importantly, I suddenly found myself without the time for my usual morning devotion and worship, as I was rising at 6.30am to drive to wherever I was working that day. Now I do realise that 6.30am is a perfectly normal time for many people to travel to work. But for me, I was used to jumping on a bus to university at 9am and then living literally across the road from where I work with 24-7 Prayer. So this was a massive difference to my lifestyle, my routine.

So what did I do? Intentionally, not much. But God did everything.

It turned out that the time I was driving was exactly the time that the sun was rising over the Perthshire hills and I had a front row view. The road I took would wind and bend and after every turn my view of the sunrise only got better.
On one day in particular, low-lying fog weaved in and out of the frost covered trees. Behind the treeline silhouettes of the rolling hills spanned the horizon with the sun just about to burst over the tops. The sky was one step ahead of the sun displaying a blur of the deepest pinks, purples and oranges.
There I sat, trying to drive in a straight line while suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty around me, blinking back tears that, if allowed to flow freely, would only put me and the car I’d borrowed into a hedge!
As I drove on I asked myself, “What was that about?” I had lived in the area for 14 years before moving away and I had driven that route hundreds of times! It slowly dawned on me that it was the presence of God in the beauty of the sunrise that I was responding to.

Instead of my usual sense of guilt due to rushing out the door without yet saying hello to God, God met me in grace. It was like He was waking me up (just as I was literally waking up after my first cup of tea of the day), reminding me that He was with me, that He knew my situation and my busyness, and yet He still wanted to simply spend time with me.

In those morning drives God met me in a different way. It wasn’t about my own ‘doings’ or my prayer lists but rather it was about just being. It was exactly what I needed and God knew that. His grace met me in the disruption of my routine.

“Be still and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10

This verse etched itself into my days. I realised that I so often rush through life too fast, too distracted, too in my own world to notice His. But when I did stop, when I took notice of the fog, the hills and the sunrise, His beauty and grace were all too clear.

My challenge to you today is – will you allow God to disrupt your routine and allow room for His grace?

Kathryn, aside from interning with 24-7 Prayer, is a postgrad student at Napier University, studying Careers Guidance. Having spent 4 summers serving with 24-7 Prayer Ibiza, Kathryn loves being part of the 24-7 Prayer movement and has a deep passion for God and people and this beautiful nation of Scotland that is her home.

For the month of October 2018, God called us as a whole community to seek Him in prayer and fasting.

This is not something we have done as a whole church, for a whole month – ever before! More daunting than that, was the fact that God asked us not to use this time to bring our requests to Him. He assured us that He already knows all our needs and wanted to just enjoy time with us!
This quote from RT Kendall was a powerful catalyst as we ventured into the unknown: “I cannot imagine a greater motivation to pray than that God enjoys having me in His presence. He enjoys my company. He delights in listening to me! He doesn’t get bored with me, there is no rejection, only total acceptance”

We agreed four ways we would focus our prayers corporately: 1) Firstly, we set our alarms for 12 noon each day to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Whilst this seemed like a fun idea at first, by the end of the month, it was clear that God had placed us in some pretty amazing places to ask for ‘His Kingdom to come’ or to ‘deliver us from evil’ – gyms, offices, hospitals, schools, business meetings, playparks, and even the Houses of Parliament! The interruptions of grace in our daily lives all over the city and nation gave us a new rhythm of reliance on God. We learned that when you pray the words of Jesus, you end up living them too!

2) Secondly, we set up a prayer room in the church, which we made accessible Monday – Friday (9am-4pm) for the whole month, with copies of the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer, TryPraying booklets and some blank journals for folks to begin a conversation with God. This quickly became a place of tangible peace and presence, to spend a few minutes or hours seeking Him.

3) Thirdly, we hosted three evenings of prayer throughout the month. These were great times of worship and waiting. One was a city-wide gathering to pray for Teen Challenge, a fantastic local charity whose vision is to help the addicted break free. A call to pray and fast is always a call to the mission of Jesus in and around us.

4) Lastly, we made an intentional emphasis on inviting people to our pre-service prayer meeting every Sunday morning throughout October. Some days there were so many people that the room we normally use was too small! This became a joy rather than a duty, and there was a real atmosphere of expectation as we listened to the voice of the Spirit through one another before starting our main service.

Fasting proved to be a really uncomfortable journey in our consumer culture. Traditionally, fasting is a private thing between the individual and God (like giving), but people were open and free in discussing what and how they were fasting. A gentle but firm reminder was needed that the key for all of us – whether fasting food, coffee, TV or other things we run to – was, are we running to God instead? Are we emptying ourselves for His fullness? Or are we just pleased with our own efforts?

From the millennials fasting Netflix to the mums fasting chocolate to the businessmen fasting coffee, we experienced a growing hunger for God. It was incredible to hear honest testimonies at the end of the month saying how dissatisfied people were when they went back to the thing they had fasted. Some people have left TV, coffee or chocolate behind for good, as they have tasted and seen that God is SO good!

Many people’s alarms are still set for mid-day and we continue to welcome the interruptions of grace as we pray “Your Kingdome come, Your will be done…

Simon has been part of the church family at Sheddocksley Baptist Church since moving to Aberdeen in 1996, where he now serves as lead pastor. Simon is married to Karen and together they raise 3 bouncing boys who give them endless joy and exhaustion all at the same time. His greatest pleasures in life other than family are football, coffee, and music… not always in that order!

Preparing for the Feast of Christmas…

The 16th of November – this is when the ancient Celtic church began observing Advent and Advent for them was a period of preparation, both inward and outward, for the Feast of Christmas.

David Baker of Dundee shares with us some thoughts as to how we might follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and prepare ourselves for the Feast of Christmas, lighting the way for others.

There is something very powerful in preparing for Christmas. The early Christian Scots knew this and spent time preparing themselves in various ways. One way was to remember all the back stories to the one Jesus story.
Over the weeks before Christmas itself they would tell stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and all the other men and women whose stories became part of the Jesus story.
As they told each story, they would draw a symbol of it and then hang each symbol on a tree. They called it a Jesse tree, after Jesse, the father of King David.

The most convenient way to prepare for Christmas today is to buy a pre-made Advent calendar. Each day we open a little door and take out a piece of chocolate. How different from the way our ancestors prepared themselves for such an important festival!

Perhaps it is time to reinvent the Celtic preparation and adapt it for today.

Encouraging Prayer
Why not make a list of 24 important people who have been part of your journey, people who have helped you to discover the real Jesus at the middle of the Christmas story? Write each name on a bit of paper and then throughout Advent take a name each day – pray for them and if you can, send a text or message to encourage them and share your Christmas joy.

Adventurous Generosity
Alternatively, we could turn the whole “chocolate for me” thing on its head and find 24 little things that you can easily give to somebody else as you prepare your own heart for Christmas. It could be small things – a sort of stocking filler – that can be given to someone you know or intentionally to a random stranger.
These little gifts can be really powerful and the gifts I have been given through the year keep reminding me to pray for the people who gave them to me (A Canadian gemstone and a silver coin are just two of those things that came my way during this year).

If being that prepared is not easy for you – another way would be to set yourself 24 challenges, one for each day. Simple things like buying someone a coffee, letting someone in a hurry cut in front of you, making sure you say thanks to someone who would normally get ignored (like the people who pick up litter).

Get started
Christmas is going to creep up on us, whether we are ready or not. These ideas are ways to prepare well.
Why not give it a go this year?