by The Very Revd Chris Chataway | Dean of St George’s Cathedral
When I was growing up, we listened to the radio, rather than watch television. There was no need to tune the radio as it was only ever tuned to the ABC. Every Saturday, the kitchen radio would be turned up loud. My Father would spend the next 50 minutes, either guffawing or doubled up with laughter. The Goon Show was the cause of these paroxysms, and one particular ditty, written by Spike Milligan, comes to my mind every Advent. A nasally high voice, sings:
I'm walking backwards for Christmas, across the Irish Sea,
I'm walking backwards for Christmas, it's the only thing for me.
This song could describe how many people approach the season of Advent. They move through Advent looking back to a babe born long ago. But this is not what Advent is. Advent is focussed on the end times, on the future, the day of judgement with the return of Christ. It is focussed on the future, God’s future, on the end of time. So why does Advent begin the Christian year?
This question is asked by Victorian theologian, Charles Sherlock in his recently published book Australian Anglicans Worship: performing APBA. The book is a commentary on A Prayer Book for Australia, now 25 years old. The author tells the history of how the prayer book was written. It aims to help the reader understand why the text is the way it is.
APBA is not a perfect prayer book, but it is the one we Australian Anglicans have. Sherlock’s book is a generous account that honours the years of work and careful negotiation that went into producing APBA. He writes with insider knowledge and authority, as he was intimately involved with its creation as a member of the Liturgical Commission which produced it. It is useful for anyone who has not used APBA before, perhaps because they come from overseas, or are new to Anglican Australian worship.
So why does Advent begin the Christian year? Only in the final eight days of Advent do the readings help us prepare for Christmas. Charles Sherlock tells us:
Advent opens the Christian year because it calls us to live from God’s future backwards, rather than just from our human past forwards. It involves the disciplined work of re-visioning our living, see everything in the light of the ‘reign of Christ the King’… Advent calls us to delight in the ‘blessed hope’ of the full presence of Christ, our judge and vindicator (Titus 2:13), our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). We stand in awe of the age-old prophets, who saw these things from afar, and indicted those who practised oppression and lived unjustly. Only with the return of Christ, “who is coming to call all to account”, will we be able to truly celebrate the first ‘advent’ of our Lord, the amazing gift of God’s eternal Word enfleshed in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, who “brings all things to their true end”, anticipating God’s future in our present (cf Corinthians 5:5).1
May God bless you as you walk into a happy new liturgical year!
1. Charles Sherlock, Australians Anglicans Worship : Performing Apba (Mulgrave, Victoria: Broughton Publishing Pty Ltd, 2020), p71?