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

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