Soon people will be asking each other “what would you like for Christmas?”, if indeed they haven’t already asked. There is a story about a politician who was contacted by a friend of his who worked on the local newspaper. His friend asked him “Tell me what you want for Christmas”. The politician replied, “Oh nothing much…please don’t worry”. But his journalist friend persisted: “Oh go on, just say anything – what would you like?”, “Very well then”, said the politician “how about a nice box of assorted chocolates”.
Later that week the headline in the local paper ran “What our local politicians want for Christmas: Ted Bloggs (Lab) wants world peace, Jane Jones (Lib Dem) wants a cure for terminal illnesses, and Bob Harris (Con) wants a box of chocolates.’ (I made up the names).
Sometimes we can be deceived into saying what we want when it’s not what we really want at all. Of course the journalist friend wasn’t really playing fair, but it’s a question that we might ask ourselves in a slightly different way. What if the question was ‘What do you really long for?’ That’s very different from musing on what we might like or even what we think we need. I wouldn’t mind having a box of chocolates right now, and I certainly need a new winter coat; but do I long for these things? No, in all honesty, I don’t.
Longing for something is that deeply felt pang that might make us ache or even cry; it’s the type of longing known by couples who want to have a baby; it’s known by someone who has been out of work and is looking for a job; it’s known by those whose child or relative has gone missing. These are longings which are too deep for words, they are heard only as soulful groans. They are to be found in the Bible, in the songs of lament and in the psalms. They are known also to God, who hears prayers every day from people who are caught up in wars they didn’t start or poverty they have no control over. This type of longing is a genuine hunger for something to change, a longing for something to be better than it feels now.
As we enter the season of Advent the church begins a period of waiting and watching for the birth of Christ. It’s a time for preparation and readiness. It is also a time to hear our longing for something to change. The birth of the baby Jesus brought about the beginning of many changes, some of which still have a huge effect on peoples’ lives today. Perhaps this time of Advent, of waiting and watching, can also be a time when our deepest yearnings, our heartfelt desires, and our longing, may somehow come together in the wonderful celebration of Christmas and the hope that lives can change for the better.
Revd Steve Rothwell