Christmas message from the Archbishop of York

John Sentamu publishes his Christmas message in the Radio Times this week

You may have come across Alexa, the online virtual assistant who does your bidding at your spoken command, whether it be turning on your television, controlling your oven or ordering your shopping online. One newspaper called it the ‘gift de jour’ last Christmas. It is supposed to deliver us the life we’re told we want – where we just shout at a device and our needs are met as quickly as the supply chain allows. It is called, by those in the know, ‘frictionless digital living’. In such a world without friction what place is there for the art of anticipation, I wonder? What is the value of waiting in a world of instant gratification?

In the Christian tradition the season of Advent is the month of preparation before Christmas – not implying a preparation of food, cards and gifts, but a time of reflection, prayer, deeds of kindness, and eager expectation. It is a time to celebrate waiting as a normal part of human experience, that period of gestation and anticipation ahead of the celebration of new life.

The season of Advent can provide an alternative narrative to the pressures wrought by the consumerist messages that saturate this time of year. It can be a time that reminds us why we are waiting rather than complaining about waiting at all. Ten years ago Abbott Christopher Jamison spoke of putting the waiting back into wanting when he said, “In Advent we rejoice that we are waiting, that there is still time to prepare a way for the Lord and we celebrate the virtue of patience. By contrast, the consumer world tells us not to wait but to ‘buy now.’ Greed cannot wait, so to learn to wait is a simple antidote to greed.”

From being quite young, and joining Bishop Festo Kivengere on missions in Uganda, I have always loved to share my encounter of Jesus Christ with others. I like to get out and be with people where they are, in the market, in the pub, in the street, in schools. We are all searching for meaning, hope, joy and peace – and are driven by a real desire to know what it is to be human, whether we attend Church or not. I am on the same journey and sometimes I feel I am just like a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

I often tell people that the good news of God in Jesus Christ is one of prayer and parties. In the Christian calendar the anticipation of hope that comes with Advent is followed not just by Christmas day itself but by Christmastide – or the twelve days of Christmas. Each year anyone who meets me on Boxing day or New Year’s Day and asks me how my Christmas was gets the same answer – Christmas is still happening!

Anticipation deserves its reward and just as the anticipation of the bride and groom is celebrated not only on their wedding day but in a married life together, so the waiting and hopefulness of Advent deserves more than an overfull belly. And instead gives birth to a season of celebration of thankfulness and rejoicing in a promise of new life that comes with the birth of the Christ Child.

So may you have a very Blessed Christmas – when it comes. May you savour the waiting and enjoy the journey along the way. And may your appetite for celebration be whetted by an anticipation of promise of all that is to come. Be Richly Blessed.

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