It's that time of the year again. Starbucks is offering me the opportunity to buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Here we go again with another series of X Factor wannabes and Strictly Come Dancing is back in full swing. Amazingly, the BBC has found another bizarre collection of business misfits to embarrass themselves with mass incompetence on The Apprentice. My local Co-op has towers of tubs of Celebrations and boxes of golden coins.
As the nights close in, it feels like the black hole that is the festive season has caught me in its inexorable gravitational pull and pretty soon another year will be over. The only indicators yet to come are those Coca Cola Christmas trucks rolling across our screen and a new John Lewis Christmas advertisement complete with waif-like female singer covering a male vocal.
I feel like I am experiencing déjà vu. I feel like I am experiencing déjà vu - no, wait, didn't I say already? In five years time will I really be sitting in front of a bigger TV watching Lord Sugar put down and push around another group of young entrepreneurs, watching Simon Cowell telling another young hopeful that "you are what this show is all about"? Will I still be counting the weeks before Christmas and counting the calories afterwards? Will I be listening to Now 204 on my iPhone 25?
The new liturgical calendar that shapes our lives is now routinely and reliably punctuated by product updates, rehashed reality television programmes and dietary rites of passage, and this influences us more than we realise. We watch a fishmonger get rescued from an apparently "empty life" but we forget that she is leaving what used to be a respectable profession to be exploited by Simon Cowell for his financial gain before she is tossed onto the pop scrap heap with other ex reality show winners.
We see potential leading business people sell their souls flogging rubbish to gullible consumers and we forget that we too are those consumers as we buy in to Lord Sugar's entertainment business. We eat too many mince pies, spend excessively on festive cheer and gifts that are not necessarily appreciated. We are being trained systematically to love a lifestyle, desire a certain body image, aspire to a certain level of material prosperity and enjoy a level of privilege not afforded to ordinary people. But before I turn into the Grinch, is it worth asking how we can not just escape this continual spin cycle of reality television and seasonal marketing, but actually transcend it?
Christians have for centuries believed in the power of repetition. The Church has aimed at the training of our souls and desires to long for God through a liturgical calendar that allowed the gospel to be the story that orientates our lives and those of our family and community. Perhaps, like me, you were raised in the free church and ignored, or maybe even deliberately rejected, the tradition of the liturgical calendar so that we could be free for a relationship with God. Little did we realise that this liturgical void was either filled by either our churches' repetitive cycles or, even more subtly, the rhythm set for our lives by marketeers and television programmers.
But even before church calendars appeared, God instigated annual festivals and visual, edible and tangible reminders to enable his people to remember and celebrate his faithfulness and provision. These festivals were designed to ensure that God's people grew more like him, that God's word got passed down through the generations and that God's blessing was passed on to others.
Perhaps with Advent rapidly approaching it is time for us to be deliberate in letting the coming of Christ shape our dreams and aspirations, our hopes and desires. It might mean fasting from some of our media consumption so that we feed on the hope of the gospel. It might mean being deliberate about choosing an advent rhythm for your life. Instead of the "here we go again" feeling as more and more tinsel appears in shop windows, how about adopting an attitude of "here we grow again"?
PS Our family is going to give this brand new lovely little resource a try this year from our friends Sam and Sarah Hargreaves, called the Advent Family Creative Journal