This post was originally written on December 2018.
I grew up celebrating Christmas as both a secular and religious holiday; we attended church and I knew the historical reason for Christmas was the observation of the birth of Jesus Christ, but we also observed the traditions of Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees and gifts. Advent, however, was not a concept with which I was particularly familiar. I made paper chains as a child to count the days until Christmas and recall having commercial advent calendars over the years. For the past few years, my mother has had an Advent wreath with candles on her table to light starting the first Sunday in December. But Advent as a practice and devotion was foreign to me.
The word “advent” is defined as “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event” and has roots in the Latin word “adventus” which translates to “coming”. In Western Christianity, Advent is the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve. It is a time for preparation, anticipation and reflection. But unlike the secular interpretation of the term advent which is for all intents and purposes a “countdown to Christmas” with the end date being December 25th and business as usual on the 26th, the season of Advent in the church is a time of reflection, preparation and observation of not only the birth of Jesus but also anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The Christmas “season” and celebration does not begin until Christmas Eve and lasts until Epiphany on January 6th.
Growing up in the Baptist church, I don’t remember ever attending church services related to Advent. From what I have read, the practices of Advent have historically been limited to those “high church” denominations that observe a more liturgical worship although more evangelical churches are incorporating Advent practices into their services in recent years. December services were often focused on the birth of Christ but during the rest of the year there was plenty of talk of the second coming, sermons from Revelations or discussions of end times. I was rolling along quite happily existing right here on earth and had no need of being constantly reminded about the “end of the world” no matter how well it might shake out for believers. Such things prompted existential crises in my OCD brain (and still do if I dwell for too long). The Christmas season is hardly a time when one wants to think of gloom and doom such as is reflected in the some of the readings for the week one Advent services yesterday and as noted by our Reverend Greg Warren. However, I am beginning to understand that only in acknowledging the darkness and pain of the world that we can see the need for a Messiah and as Christians we can focus our energies not only on the remembrance of the birth of a Savior and a desire for a new world but also in seeing Jesus in the world around us. Advent is a time of hope, even in tumultuous times. And to quote Rev. Greg one can see the heavenly things in “the small acts of kindness that are happening all around us every day.”
I believe as with the practice of any faith, focus needs to be not only on the past or the future but in the here and now. An article by columnist Michael Sean Winters asserts “But Jesus is also coming today, right now, whenever we are confronted with human need, whenever we contemplate the reserved Eucharist, whenever we partake of the sacraments, whenever we acknowledge our own sins, whenever we seize the opportunity to act kindly or to forgive. This Advent, in contemplating the first and the second comings, perhaps our goal should be to focus on all the millions and billions of comings between the two, to see Jesus alive, here and now, still and always a savior, our savior, the savior of the world.”
Christmas is a magical time for me; I have many fond memories that are brought to mind each year at this time. But over time, the magic that was associated with those childhood memories tends to fade and I struggle each year to make the season “perfect” with activities, music, movies, and get togethers. Inevitably, my expectations are not fully met and by the time Christmas Day rolls around, I am exhausted, slightly disappointed, and ready to pack it in for another year. But with the discovery of Advent, I believe that the season can have deeper meaning and joy for me that I can then impart to others. And isn’t that what the Christmas season is all about?
Karri Temple Brackett
December 3, 2018
For more information on Advent and the information above:
http://stpetersconway.org/ (sermon from December 2, 2018)