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Did anyone ever make a Blue Peter Advent crown out of coat hangers? When one caught light in the studio, it was certainly very tempting! How Advent calendars have changed over the last 50 years; in fact it’s possible to spend more on an Advent Calendar than the Christmas presents themselves. Villery and Bosch have one with 24 miniature ornaments for just £350 but for the Scottish Whiskey connoisseur a mere £9,999.95 will give you a collection of very old and rare tasters. Be quick, though, there were only two left when I looked.

The countdown to Christmas has begun and churches invite us to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. Curiously the message of Advent is not about getting ready for a particular known and expected date. Just the opposite in fact; it’s being prepared for the unexpected. The parables read in church during Advent talk of a thief coming in the night, about bridesmaids unprepared for the bridegroom’s sudden and unannounced arrival.

The Advent challenge is to step aside from the business and stress of the seasonal rush and relax in the present. It urges us to celebrate the best that surrounds us now and respond to the needs of others. How we react to the unexpected demands on us is, according to the Advent parable of the sheep and goats, a matter of the uttermost significance. “When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?” ask the doomed animals of Christ. “Because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me” comes the reply. The countdown to Christmas may have begun but it isn’t only the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago that should preoccupy us; it’s the coming of Christ unexpectedly in the call of our neighbour.

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