A Beginner's Guide to Advent
If your household is anything like mine this year, you started listening to Christmas music at the beginning of November and were decorating for Christmas before the turkey (or tofurkey) was stuffed. Christmas, for many of us, is a season of nostalgia and joy, bringing family traditions to life while decorating your house and tree with ornaments and memories.
While in seminary I served at an Episcopal Church for a Liturgical Year. Starting in December we’d walk into the sanctuary to find beautiful purple floral decorations and the priest in his purple vestments, holly and candles quietly burning. We would sing but we didn’t sing any Christmas Carols. Each Sunday we would sit/stand/sit/kneel/sit/stand with great anticipation (if you’ve ever been to a liturgical church, you know the drill) but we never uttered or sang a word of Christmas. It was all about Advent.
The Christmas Eve candlelight service was the first time we sang about Jesus, and what a great joy it was. After Christmas Sunday and headed toward the new year, I anticipated the traditional ‘New Year’ service, you know the “make your resolutions for Jesus” and hear the stats about folks bailing on their resolutions. But to my surprise, as service began that Sunday after Christmas we were singing “Joy to the World”! We learned of Jesus, of the Incarnation, and we celebrated the prophetic initial-fulfillment of the long-anticipated Savior. There was no talk of death or Eastertide sermons, just longing, life, and the Light of the World.
Quick Note: The Church Calendar
Some of us are familiar with aspects of the Church Calendar. A liturgical rhythm that, throughout the year, centers around the life and ministry of Christ. The Calendar begins with Advent and ends with Ordinary Time in the following November. In a typical liturgical church, you’ll hear an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, A portion of the Gospels, and a New Testament reading all which revolve around a central theme according to the Church calendar.
The Liturgical Calendar, in my view, is a beautiful gift to Christians. Each year we are thrust into the anticipation of the coming Messiah, joining the early Jewish believers waiting for their salvation. We know from Scripture and history that the Jewish people endured many great sufferings from the Egyptians, Assyrians, Exile by the Babylonians, and the new exile under Greek and Roman occupation. There was the great Maccabean Revolt which helped drive the Greeks out of Jerusalem, but it made way for Rome to rule in Israel. Christ is born as Israel was praying for a messiah who would overthrow the political power of the day. I imagine many of us feel the same longing for Christ’s return in the midst of all that we see going on in the world today. That is what Advent invites us into.
How to Advent
The season of Advent invites us to think about where justice needs to be birthed. It is a season of entering into solidarity with Christians around the world who live under a modern Roman occupation. It is for us, an invitation to examine our lives, to acknowledge that we are longing for breakthrough, we are longing for our hearts and minds and families and world to be made whole.
Advent isn’t just about remembering the Birth of Christ. Advent invites us into the long-suffering of the world as we await Christ’s return. It is a season of anticipating God’s work in the world, the final culmination of redemption and justice and life made new.
For some, a spiritual discipline during Advent might be to wait until Christmas Eve to play Christmas music. Delay your gratification and nostalgia as a way to pray for and stand with those who are far from home. In the era of the quick-fix and fast-everything maybe we could train our souls to embrace longing and expecting, to endure a process, to teach us what it means to be in the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God.
As you prepare for Advent, consider the following practices as your engage in this season with Christians from all denominations all around the world:
Journal: In what area of life do you feel uneasy? What is the source of your anxiety? What are you waiting for?
Pray: In what areas of society and culture do you see a need for the birth of the savior, the re-birth of humanity, and the return of Christ? What can we do?
Devotional: Consider an Advent Devotional for daily scripture, prayer, and meditations. Does your church have an advent devotional? Stay tuned on the blog for an advent devotion each week!
Fasting: Some Orthodox Traditions participate in a fast as they prepare for the Feast of Christmas. Consider fasting from shopping, technology, or comfort items to be with and pray for those who are in a season of anticipation and waiting.