There are many ways to learn a foreign language, but for most people the best is ‘full immersion’: you expose yourself as much as possible to written and spoken forms of the language. Occasional classes and snippets can also work but will not result in the same speed of uptake. There is time to forget between instalments. The first part of each class is taken up with re-remembering and acclimatising.
Advent (taken properly) is a time of full immersion in the Christian message. Each day of the week involves events and services, and sometimes several. Each differs in terms of emphases and content (‘Do we sing in this one?’). They each confront us with the Gospel and the need for commitment and con version. They all talk about God and involve entering the presence of God. This constant exposure to the thrill of Gospel, hymn and prayer causes the stories to penetrate deeply, hammer drilled through conscious mind and into the heart.
We all need to grow as Christians, and there are many ways to achieve that growth. But until the message of the Gospel has passed from head to heart, it tends to remain an add-on extra like a hobby or pastime. That’s before we reach a kind of critical mass. But later, we find ourselves thinking as Jesus did, and trying to work, pray and act like Jesus. Our Christianity matters in a way it simply did not before.
There are many ways of immersing ourselves in the Christian life, but all involve repetition and effort. They all require full immersion. All are risky insofar as they want us to leave our comfort zones and look at Jesus and the claims he makes on us. They want us to change.