1 December 2023

The TC's Advent message 2023: Embrace the season

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill

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At the beginning of Advent, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill reminds us not to rush through the season.

Greetings to you all from THQ, and this part of London known as Denmark Hill. Danish Prince George – the husband of Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714 – owned property and loved to hunt around here. Consequently, this area was named in his honour: Denmark Hill.

As it happens, exactly 300 years after the death of Queen Anne, Gill and I left the college at Denmark Hill in 2014 and moved to live and serve in Denmark itself.

It was while we were there that I realised that, in the UK – and, dare I say, especially in the Army – there is a tendency to jump straight into Christmas without the necessary and beautiful build-up and experience of Advent, which Scandinavians warmly and intentionally embrace. 

By the time most Brits get to the 12 days of Christmas, which start on 25 December, too many of us are almost done with Christmas – I know of households where the Christmas decorations come down a day or so after Boxing Day! 

We have 12 days of celebrating Christmas – but after this gentle, but intensive, time of preparation, effectively waiting for and anticipating the arrival of Jesus on Christmas Day. 

It’s a beautiful time – but only if we can just slow down enough to intentionally breathe in of the Advent experience.

And here lies the challenge: most of us, if not all of us, involved in Salvation Army service and ministry face the probability of running flat-out throughout December, sorting out toys, meals, clothing, food parcels and parties, planning carol services, playing and singing carols and 1,001 other things. 

Is it possible for us – busy us – to take in some comfort and joy as we journey these next weeks? 

My answer to my own question is: I certainly hope so.

One of my earliest memories as a four-year-old was being locked in a downstairs toilet. Try as I did, I could not budge the lock, which I had locked from the inside. Eventually my parents heard my distraught cries and shouts and came to my rescue – which was not as straight forward as one might have anticipated! I can see it now: the tiny outside window to the garden was prised open and my dad appeared with a very long wooden clothes prop and proceeded to knock the bolt on the door until it sprang open.

Anyone who has been trapped or locked in for any period of time knows the exhilaration of walking away free, with fresh air in your lungs and a spring in your step, as you enjoy release from what was your captivity.

Theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by the Nazis during the Second World War, wrote to his fiancée on 21 November 1943 from Tegel prison and explained one lesson learnt from life in prison. 

He penned: ‘A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside … is not a bad picture of Advent.’

Advent is all about an arrival, and a release from being locked in– not so much about us running around like headless chickens! We need to intentionally keep stopping in the midst of our loving busyness and receive God’s comfort and joy in anticipation of the great celebration of Christ coming into the world.

Some of you will remember the little yellow supplementary Keep Singing songbook that was published in the mid-1970s. In there was a gem of the Joystrings and, of course, of Joy Webb, who recently went to Heaven: ‘When Jesus Comes to You’. How this great song was never published in the last two songbooks is a mystery to me, but I share the words to bless and encourage you as we head into Advent and all that is before us:

When Jesus comes to you, he’ll bring gladness,
When Jesus comes to you, he’ll bring peace.
The glory of his presence from care will bring release,
When Jesus, Jesus comes to you.

When Jesus comes to you,
When Jesus comes to you.
He’ll fill your heart with gladness,
When Jesus, Jesus comes to you.

When Jesus comes to you, he’ll bring comfort,
When Jesus comes to you, he’ll bring light.
The glow of inward courage will tinge the darkest night,
When Jesus, Jesus comes to you.

I love the fact that the shepherds were told ‘unto you’ is born a Saviour: Jesus is a gift to the world but such a personal gift to each of us. And we who love and serve him naturally want others to experience life in all its fullness with Jesus – we want people to be blessed and helped and inspired heading towards Christmas. 

I have no doubt we can be most effective in achieving such a great purpose when we first receive and allow the dear Christ to enter in.

So I want to thank God for you all and for what you are going to do to bless the people we are called to serve in all our communities – may every Carol played and sung, every meal served, every parcel wrapped, every message delivered be used by God.

But I want to urge us all to embrace the Advent season – don’t rush into Christmas without it! Make sure you don’t get locked in or locked out from the blessings that God has in store for you. 

May comfort and joy, accompanied by peace, be yours in great measure.

A happy and God-blessed Advent to you all! Thank you!

Reflect and respond

  • Use the TC’s message to prepare before music rehearsals, volunteer sessions or Sunday meetings.
  • What can you do to share comfort and joy with others this Christmas?
  • When can you pause this week and take in some comfort, joy and peace for yourself?
  • Get resources for every week of Advent.

Written by

Anthony Cotterill

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill

Territorial Commander

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