December 1, 2013

What is Advent, Anyway?

Today is the first day of a season in the church calendar known as Advent.  In the introduction to the book we read as a family last year (and will again this year) says that observing this season did not begin until the fourth century and was not solidified into the four-Sundays schedule we know now until the ninth century.  Thus, like the Spiritual Disciplines addressed in the November series, observing Advent is not law that must be obeyed.  It is simply a practice that can help focus our hearts on God in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Tradition need not be upheld for tradition's sake, but it can be beneficial to consider how the Church has done things in the past and adopt practices that draw us nearer to the Lord.

I was surprised to learn last Sunday that the first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church  (liturgical) calendar each year.  (Please feel free to snicker; I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't know that after so many years - my whole life - in Presbyterian churches!)  Seems so right, a time of anticipation of Christ's coming as a starting point for the church year.  Then, as I was reading last night, a couple of articles mentioned that not only in this period are we anticipating, preparing for the celebration of, and focusing on the birth of Christ, but it is also a time to think about the second Advent (which means, 'coming') of Christ.  He will come again, just as he came the first time!  We can join with Israel in her waiting, to some degree and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel with similar longing, though we do have the blessed benefit of living after Messiah's first coming!*

Wikipedia says, For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.  I like that phrase to be alert for his Second Coming.  I sure don't live alert most of the time!  I long, for sure, to be rid of this body of death, of the evil one's schemes to trip me up, and all of the effects of the fall.  But I am dreadfully lacking in the anticipation department!  I moan and groan when I could be eagerly and actively waiting.  Maybe you do too.

What is Advent, then?  Simply, it is a season in the church calendar that includes the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, during which we reflect on the "comings" of Christ, first and second.  We set aside time to think about the promises of God and how He fulfills them.  Such thoughts remind us of our desperate need for His promises and their fulfillment in and through Him.  How wonderful to have a time of preparation and anticipation, shared with other believers, as we look to Christmas!

Maybe Advent has never been a "thing" at your church.  Maybe Advent was always overdone or too showy.  Maybe you love Advent with all your heart.  I dunno where you come from, but since it is the first day of Advent in the Western world and Advent has become more important to me in recent years, seemed like a good idea to talk about it here.  I'm looking forward to Sunday meals with one more candle lit each week (we got our advent wreath out this morning!), and I'm thankful for the new perspective about being alert for Christ's Second Coming while reflecting on the first.

I don't know if people say this, but I will: Happy Advent!  May this month full of activities, concerts, parties, and shopping also be a time of new discovery of how long, wide, deep, and high the love of God is for you in Christ.

*     *     *

Over the rest of the Sundays of Advent, I plan to write a Christmas-y reflection of one kind or another.  I hope you'll stop back!  :)

*Ideas borrowed from Justin Holcolm in this article:

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