Have you ever noticed that groups develop their own kinds of codes to communicate? For example, liking something has a whole new connotation after Facebook. And, if Google has their way, we’ll all change our thinking about what +1 means…
We have our own codes in the church, too. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about sin if it wasn’t in the context of church? I’ve not heard anyone who was wronged by another proclaim, “They sinned against me!” Certainly the concept of the Trinity, God who is three-in-one, is not something I’ve run into outside of theological discussions. And then there are Advent and Lent.
I’ll save the discussion on Lent until we are a bit closer to that season of the Christian year. But thought it might be helpful to try and get us all on the same page about this whole Advent thing. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day. This is usually about four weeks, but can be almost 5 (depending on when Christmas falls in the week.)
Part of the confusion with Advent is that it lines up with the secular “Christmas Season” beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. (Let’s not get into the retail Christmas season…) But, the Christian Christmas season is actually AFTER Christmas! You know that song, “The 12 Days of Christmas?” Well it is based on the season from Christmas through January 6th (or the Epiphany.)
The Christmas season is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, where Advent is a time of preparation for that birth. Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. And, waiting is something that I don’t do well, and I don’t think I am alone. When I get into the checkout line at the grocery store, or at any busy retail outlet, I get anxious. Well, no, I get downright evil. I grumble about the slowness of the line and wonder why I am cursed to always choose the slowest line. I think the license bureau gets such a bad reputation because of this same thing, waiting.
It’s hard to wait. It can be even harder to wait for a birth. Talk with just about any mother in the last month of her pregnancy, and she is likely to express that she is “Ready to have this baby!” There are a LOT of emotions tied up in that statement. Those emotions of waiting and anticipation are what Advent is all about.
Each of the four Sundays has a different theme: Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. To help us think about those ideas we include the lighting of Advent Candles in our worship services. Each Sunday another blue candle is lit to remind us of that week’s theme. And we light the candles from the prior weeks to celebrate the building anticipation.
Then Advent comes to its completion on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we retell the story of Jesus’ birth through the reading of scripture and the singing of Christmas Carols. And we light not only the four blue candles on the wreath, but the central, white, Christ candle as a reminder of Christ’s presence with us. Then we conclude our Christmas Eve worship by singing “Silent Night” and each person lights a candle and we surround the sanctuary with light, reminding each and every one of us that we carry the light of Christ with us.
I look forward to celebrating Advent with you this year, as we anticipate the coming of Christ even as we remember the anticipation of Jesus’ birth.
Look! Christ is coming! Behold, Christ is here!