The word that best describes Advent and the approach of Christmas is expectation. I suspect, however, that for many people the feeling that this season engenders is anxiety.
Life never seems to get simpler. As the festive season comes into focus, the temptation is for modern man and woman to sense a new anxiety, which we may describe as the fear of having so much to do and so little time in which to do it.
Our society is riddled with anxiety. From the young child at school rendered anxious by social media-fuelled expectations, to parents anxious not to let down their children as the list of Christmas gifts grows. Elderly folk can feel the anxiety of loneliness quite acutely as advertising blasts out the message that everyone lives in a fun-loving, beautiful, rich, friendship group.
Climate change and Brexit, among other worries, are also sources of anxiety for people. Perhaps it was ever thus.
Mary and Joseph must have been anxious about how to explain to family, friends and neighbours the mystery of the coming birth of their child, who was the incarnate Son of God.
Their anxieties must have intensified when they realised that they would need to be away from home at the time of the birth of Jesus. Going through labour in a stable, in the bitter cold, away from family and friends must have been worrying, frightening even, for a young mother and her husband.
The anxiety of Mary and Joseph was dispelled wonderfully by the birth of Jesus. They witnessed the heavens rejoice. They saw their child worshipped by people of high and low rank. They remembered what the angel had told them, and they realised with joy and wonder that the arrival of their most holy child changed everything for them and for the whole world.
As we approach Christmas, it is a good idea to let Jesus do the same for us. His peace is the best antidote to anxiety. Many people will testify that we can find peace when we open our hearts to God.
Search out a little silence in the coming days. Maybe read over the verses of the Gospel that tell of Jesus’ birth. Light a candle and put yourself in the presence of God.
Your cares may not disappear, but your anxieties will surely be re-cast in a different and more hopeful perspective by the presence of Jesus, the Emmanuel, who is God with us.
Archbishop of Glasgow
Picture: The Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia.