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. We have our own codes in the church, too. Words like grace, forgiveness, mercy, sin and communion all have a particular meaning in the church. We even have our own calendar which starts in late November or early December, and includes strange seasons like Advent and Lent.
Both Lent and Advent are seasons of preparation. They are times which encourage us to prepare our hearts, minds, and lives for a significant celebration. Lent encourages us to prepare for Easter as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Advent is the season of preparation before Jesus’ birth. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day.
Part of the confusion with Advent is that it lines up with the secular “Christmas Season” beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. 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. 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!