From Advent to Christmas in one hour
December 23, 2016
I did some time-travel on Sunday, November 27. I travelled from Advent to Christmas in about an hour. It happened in London during a visit to the community of St Anselm for young Christians at Lambeth Palace. The newly-formed Anselm Community is a place where young adults are able to live for one year of their life in Christian community. There is a “Rule of Life” for all to follow and for ten months – “A Year in God’s Time” – they come together from all over the world to worship and serve and grow together. The community was called into being by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby, two years ago.
Long story short: the road to this visit really began at our Diocesan Synod in April when I raised in my charge to Synod the possibility of forming a similar community for young Christians here in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. Following that I began talking to interested persons and contacted the community in London about their work. After months of uncertainty it all came together a few weeks ago when they invited me to come for a looksee. I asked Archdeacon Sam to accompany me and then at the last minute Kathy and Jill decided to join us on what became a whirlwind trip to London where we explored the Community of St Anselm with its Prior, Father Anders Litzell, met with Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace, and visited several inner-city churches with vibrant ministries that we wanted to see first-hand like St Martin in the Fields. Sunday found us worshipping with Nicky Gumbel at Holy Trinity Brompton (Alpha!) where we encountered a capacity congregation of young people.
But all of this is just background to my experience of time-travel on the afternoon of Sunday, November 27. As I mentioned, everything came together rather quickly for us. When Kathy and I realized that our son, Adam, who is finishing his PhD at the University of Exeter would not be home this Christmas for the first time in his 29 years we invited him to London for the weekend to have an early Christmas with us. His fiancé, Magda, is Czech and this Christmas they will be with her family near Prague. In the days leading up to our trip Kathy packed a suitcase with Christmas gifts for the two of them and then, in a hotel room in London on November 27 (the First Sunday of Advent), we put up a tiny tree (all of a foot tall) and shared our gifts. We even had Christmas Stockings! One of Adam and Magda’s gifts to us was inscribed “Merry Movable Christmas!” Then Adam and Magda surprised me by extending the celebration to New Year’s Day as they gave me a birthday present for my birthday on January 1. The very next day, at Paddington Station, Kathy and I saw them off as we returned to Canada. Archdeacon Sam and Jill came with us to the train station and in the pictures Sam surreptitiously took of our good-bye I was struck by how the four of us seemed frozen in time as commuters all around us hurried to their destinations and deadlines.
This was all a new experience for me, marking Christmas a month early, but I am glad we were able to do it. We will still have Christmas on December 25 at home, but there were all sorts of good reasons to mark it early in London this year. As important as the proper date may be, there can be something even more important in celebrating Christmas with loved ones in person when you know that they won’t be with you on the day. In Holy Scripture Jesus tells us that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” implying that dates and times should be at the service of people and not the other way around. Yes, Christmas may have come a bit early this year for us, but the chance to celebrate the birth of Christ together was more important than the arbitrary (and widely debated) date. And because we broke the rules a little we have the memory of a moment in time when everything seemed to stop for us and something precious was shared.
This Christmas may we all remember someone who is not with us for the first time because of work or study or other circumstances.
This Christmas may we all remember someone who is not with us for the first time because they are with God. This Christmas may we all treasure the memories of Christmases past even as we make new memories on Christmas present.
“For unto us is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.”