Stir-up for Advent

Does it feel like Advent has truly begun?

I know it’s technically the last Sunday of the year, rather than the first Sunday of Advent, but I always find my attention starting to get diverted towards Advent when we get to ‘Stir-up Sunday’ in November. The prayer for that day in the Book of Common Prayer begins “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”.

But because of that opening line “Stir up”, many people know that Sunday as the day to be making Christmas puddings! Families held “Stir Up” to be a reminder to mix and steam their Christmas Pudding ready to be consumed on Christmas Day.

Parents would teach their children how to mix, everyone would take a turn to stir and each person involved would think upon their year ahead and make a wish or say a prayer. In some households, a silver sixpence was added. I certainly remember hunting for the coin with my great-grandmother when I was a boy. Perhaps that’s why ‘Stir-up Sunday’ feels like the start of Advent for me. Now the preparations are beginning.

However, a recent survey of British children suggested two-thirds of them today have never experienced stirring the pudding mix. Parents now tend to buy a ready-made Christmas pudding rather than make their own.

The phrase “Stir up” comes from a translation of the latin prayer “Excita, quæsumus” – excita – “Stir up”, also being the word from which we get excited, or excitable. So what are you ‘excitable’ or ‘stirred up’ about?

We may get stirred up by the latest Twitterstorm, or who will win Strictly, or whether we will get that Christmas toy for the children before the store runs out of stock. But are they the things that really matter in Advent?

When Mary and Martha met Jesus, Martha tore around the kitchen while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening. When Martha got upset about her sister’s lack of assistance, Jesus told the harassed Martha that Mary had chosen the better part. Hurry and rush are not often a friend to a sense of God’s presence.

Stir-up Sunday, in the final analysis, simply brought everyone in a family face-to-face around the kitchen table talking about their hopes for the future and doing something together and that sounds to me like a good way to enter into Advent.

I feel like I say this every year in a world that only ever seems to get faster. But I do know some are listening. Some are slowing down. Some are taking time; often because they’ve seen the perils of running too fast, too hard for too long.

If we were to slow down a little and make space for some old traditions like ‘Stir-up Sunday’ or the waiting and reflecting of Advent, we might find a better form of stirring taking place in our hearts this coming Christmas.

When it comes, and not before (!), have a lovely, merry Christmas!

Rev David Green
based on David’s ‘Thought for the Day’
first broadcast on Sunday 25 November
Radio Kent’s Sunday Programme

Advent: trust the process

Nick Saban is recognized as one of the best coaches in university American Football. He has won five national championships. In his career, his teams have won nearly 80% of the games he has coached; a great record.

His defining and highly successful philosophy is what he calls “The Process”. Instead of asking his players to focus on winning the next game, he asks them to focus on what the next action is. The next drill. The next play. To Saban, it’s not the outcome that’s important, it’s the “process”.

In his own words:

“We try to define the standard that we want everybody to work toward, adhere to, and do on a consistent basis… being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you’re trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don’t try to focus as much on outcomes as we do on being all you can be.”

Saban has recovered something that I think our nation has sadly lost, and that loss is never more apparent in the UK than in the run-up to Christmas. To our considerable detriment, we have become all about the end goal.

We all have goals. We want to write a novel, go on a diet and lose a stone, become an entrepreneur, retire early, have children. Sometimes the goals are easier to realise – we want to celebrate a lovely Christmas with family and friends, sparkly lights, turkey and trimmings, fizz and maybe a Carol or two.

But if we live life from goal to goal, we can fall into the trap of only being happy when we reach that desired end. If all you want is a wife, it feels ‘less than’ until you get what you want. Romance, getting to know one another, enjoying the friendship? Love is cheapened and we treat it cheaply.

Sometimes our goals aren’t within our control. I can’t make someone publish my book. If the outcome doesn’t meet my expectation, if I’m all about the goal, I will feel disappointed. I end up either aiming for things I know I can guarantee (so I am never disappointed) or I don’t try at all.

Sometimes we aim arbitrarily. We want to lose a stone, and then get disappointed when we only lose 9 pounds. We are robbed of the joy which should have been ours.

But if we focus instead on the “Process”, we get to enjoy the journey. Furthermore, if and when the goal is reached, there isn’t an enormous anti-climax because it was never entirely about the goal anyway.

So ignore Christmas Lights in November, John Lewis TV adverts and Black Friday deals. Eliminate the clutter! Embrace Advent! Welcome the “Process”! Prepare in that traditional and ancient sense that our forebears understood and we have lost.

Christmas will come. It starts on the 25th of December. But the message of Advent and one that will serve you well with your New Year Resolutions too, is that it is the journey that matters. Don’t fret for end results. Enjoy your Advent and, when it comes, may “the Process” bring you greater blessing this Christmas!

Rev David Green

An unexpected Christmas

With congratulations to the children and grown-ups at St Paul’s Church, Auckland in New Zealand for their fabulous work. We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with this lovely interpretation of the Christmas Nativity story.