It’s Advent again, and the church calendar “re-starts” itself with ADVENT. While our cultural calendar says there is still a month to go before New Year, the church year is organized around the life of Christ and the Church –
- from Advent to Christmas & Epiphany-the Cycle of Light;
- Lent to Easter and Pentecost – the Cycle of Life; and
- the life of the church (what we call “Ordinary Time”).
- The year ends with a reference back to the beginning with the celebration of “Christ the King Sunday” – the last Sunday in the Church year.
The origin of Advent in the church year is clouded in uncertainty, with two main themes suggested by Church Historians. Some suggest Advent was a “counter” to Lent in that it was a time for penitence and preparation. In the early church new “followers” spent a significant time in preparation for being initiated into the church. Originally this was focused on the time of Lent, as new Christians were prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday, and accepted into the church on Easter. Later, the season of Advent (which was originally 6 Sundays), became a time of preparation for the new Christian into baptism and full church participation at Epiphany.
Other historians point to the church in Rome where Advent was characterized by festive and joyful preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus. These two emphases have both been found in the church as its emphasis has swung back and forth from penitence to festiveness. Today, most of the universal church, celebrates Advent as a joyful time of looking for the birth of the Christ..
In general, in the 21st century, we celebrate three “comings” in the season of Advent.
- the coming of Christ as a child at Bethlehem;
- his coming into our hearts (our spiritual journey); and
- His Second Coming as conquering Lord.
For the four weeks before Christmas, our worship calls us into a time to wait for the coming of the Lord. Worship during the first two weeks emphasizes the second coming of Christ and need to prepare for his return. We take on the ancient Israel’s feelings of hope, eager anticipation, longing and looking forward to the day, for we await the consummation of history and the redemption of all things. But more than a feeling, this preparation includes a moral and spiritual emphasis. Consequently a life of godly conduct is emphasized in the Scriptures of the first two weeks of Advent.
Beginning with the third week of Advent, the emphasis turns to joy, and we are brought close to the event of Jesus’ birth, and so our focus in worship becomes the Incarnation: God with us. At this point we are drawn into the rejoicing of those immediately involved surrounding the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ. So in anticipation of the birth of the Christ, we hear or sing:
- the dramatic Annunciation –the message of the angel to Mary; and
- the Magnificat- Mary’s response, “My soul magnifies the Lord”.
So, the season of Advent begins the church year, with a dramatic announcement of the coming of Christ. This radical new message with its call to repentance and high expectancy pushes us to an Advent full of color and bursting with symbols and drama, readying our people for the second coming of Christ as well as the birth of the Son.
Think on these things. . . dr dave
(Prepared with reliance on Dr. Robert Webber – “The Origins of Advent Worship” & “The Spiritual Journey of Advent Worship” – both part of the The Services of the Christian Year, Volume V, of the Complete Library of Christian Worship.)