I have to admit, three years ago when my Pastor announced that our church would be observing Advent over the 4 Sunday’s leading up to Christmas, I was skeptical. I mean, not only are we going to read the typical Christmas passages, but we are supposed to read seriously old hymns and poems by Church Father’s who didn’t speak American English? Who has time for that?!
There are gingerbread cookies to be made, a zillion presents to be bought for my enormous family, a house to decorate, and 18 Christmas parties that I have to find ironic yet desirable white elephant gifts for. There is no time for church history in all of that!
So, begrudgingly, with much guilt and encouragement from my small group, I agreed to participate…. which actually means I agreed to skim the daily reading while my coffee percolated each morning.
The first week of readings were about the waiting of the Jews for the Messiah and the waiting of Christians for the second coming of Christ. It was all somber and dark and not at all festive. I wanted to quit.
The second week was better, it moved on to the prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled through the birth of Christ. I’d always focused more on the prophecies related to Christ’s death, so the birth ones were kind of cool.
Two weeks later, driving to my grandmother’s house on December 23rd, I realized something had changed in my heart. Somewhere in the 4 weeks of reading the prayers in old English, the hymns we never sing anymore and writings of Church Fathers, my cynicism had melted away. In its place was awe – awe of what our God did across hundreds and hundreds of years to bring about the birth of the Messiah, who 33 years later would sacrifice himself to give the world the opportunity for a relationship with God.
I’ve observed Advent every year since.
The term Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, which means coming or anticipated arrival. The tradition began in 4th or 5th century Gaul and Spain as a time of personal preparation for Epiphany – a celebration by early Christians of Jesus Baptism, miracles and the Magi. In those early days, Epiphany was the time for new Christians to be baptized into the church, so the preceding observance of Advent was a time when new believers examined their hearts for Baptism.
It was officially instituted in the 6th century by the Roman Catholic Church as a time set aside for the faithful to prepare through penance for the celebration of the coming of Christ, both the second coming and birth of Christ. For Protestant denominations, the focus of the time is spiritual preparation, reflection and gratitude.
The traditional liturgy of Advent begins with Scripture passages on the return of Christ in the second coming, then moves to the Old Testament prophecies foretelling the coming of a Messiah before ending on the New Testament passages we know as the Christmas Story. The progression of readings leads us from somber reflection to hope of salvation and ends with glorious celebration.
This advent season, why not put down the tinsel, visit the mall less, skip one of this years 18 Christmas parties and devote time to the coming of Christ?
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that he might redeem those who were under the law and give them adoption as sons of the Father.” Galatians 4:4-5