Traditionally, the church has called the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day the Season of Advent. It is considered a time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Season of Christmas, which is the twelve days following Christmas Day (Dec 25th-Jan 5th). Most tend to celebrate a long season of Christmas which goes from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Day and then concludes. Observing a traditional Season of Advent followed by a Season of Christmas might feel strange at first, but separating these seasons, as the Church traditionally has, can help increase our faith, hope, and longing as we place ourselves in the story of God’s people.
Advent means “coming”. The Church observes this season to help enhance our wonder at the truth that God comes to us. We will spend time remembering the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, but also anticipating the second coming of Jesus in power to make all things new. Advent is a season of eagerly awaiting the promised second coming of our King as a way to prepare our hearts to celebrate the fulfilled promises of the first coming of our King.
Advent is a season where we try to walk in the “already/not-yet” tension of the gospel. Jesus has already come in the fulfillment of God’s promises and to establish his gracious reign as King. But the final fulfillment of the promises and the completion of his kingdom has not yet arrived. In the Season of Advent our souls wait in stillness, our minds anticipate the future, and our hearts begin to long for our coming King. In the Season of Christmas, our hearts rejoice, our minds remember, and our souls rest assured in the already-come King. Our world makes many promises (especially this time of year) that our personal version of the "good life" can be fulfilled in the here and now through gifts, family, charity, nostalgia, and community. Because of this, we want want to embrace the tension of Advent by remembering that we are not yet at the end of God’s story of redemption and restoration, and intentionally longing for Jesus’ return.
The Season of Advent is not about itself. It is not waiting for the sake of waiting. It is about God coming to us. The season is building up to Christmas Day, the birth of Christ, the incarnation, and then responding with the celebrative Christmas Season. With that in mind, the question is, how do we, as a church, prepare to celebrate God coming to us? By spending the Advent season waiting and hoping and longing for the second coming, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the first coming. We are able to more fully understand the passages of the Israelites waiting for their coming king when we have spent time waiting for our coming king. We are able to more fully love and cherish the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s birth when we have spent time praying for the New Testament promises of the second coming to be fulfilled. When we spend time crying out “Come Lord Jesus!”, the incarnation becomes an assurance to us that the promises are true, Jesus has come to us, and will again. The light coming into the world appears much brighter when we’ve spent time acknowledging the darkness we live in. We don’t want to become numb to the story of Jesus. We don’t want the season to pass us by without our faith being strengthened and our church built up. So we will observe the Season of Advent, and slowly, but surely, the darkness will turn to light as we move to into the Season of Christmas.
HOW WE WILL PARTICIPATE IN ADVENT AT OUR GATHERINGS
In order to observe the Season of Advent, our Gatherings will look a little different. We will spend time reading, praying, and waiting for Jesus to return. We will be preaching through the songs of the nativity found in Luke chapters 1 and 2. As always, we will observe communion, but focusing on the meal as a foretaste of the feast to come when we will be with Jesus physically. Below are some additional practices we want to observe to help us remember the season we are in.
KNEELING - During the prayer of confession, we will kneel as we anticipate the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We kneel during our prayer of confession to acknowledge our dependence on God’s mercy toward us sinners.
LAMENT - During the Pastoral Prayer we will spend some time lamenting. To lament is to cry out to God in response to events that don’t line up with God’s character or Kingdom. In Advent we will spend time lamenting as we anticipate the day when all things will finally and fully line up with God’s character and Kingdom. We will have note cards and pens available for us to participate in the lament by writing down things in our lives that we look forward to being no more upon Jesus’ return. Examples might include sickness, relational struggles, anxiety, depression, poverty, hunger, fatherlessness, and racial divides. Note cards can be brought up and placed on the communion table as a physical reminder that we are bringing our requests to God, and he hears us. The Pastor will pray for them all at once without reading them aloud.
DECORATIONS - We will have some simple decorations of the traditional purple and deep blue colors and rough, unfinished textures to help mark the season. We will have four candles with an additional one lit each week to remind us that Jesus is the light coming into the darkness, even as we wait in this season.
SONGS - We will sing both Advent and Christmas songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, and “Joy To The World”, as well as a couple new songs.
HOW WE CAN PARTICIPATE IN ADVENT AT HOME
There are many simple traditions people have used to remind them of the season we are in at home in addition to our Gatherings. Some people set an extra place at the dinner table to remind them that Jesus is not with us physically, though we wish he was. Some people have four advent candles, lighting an additional candle each week to show the light coming into the world, and the slow passage of time as we wait. Some people fast from dessert at certain meals to remind them that our celebration in this world is not complete. Some refrain from certain activities or entertainment that we tend to use when we are troubled or tired in order to enhance our feeling of longing. Some read an Advent devotional or the first 25 chapters of “The Jesus Storybook Bible”. There are many ways for us to creatively remember the unfinished story we are in, and build anticipation as we wait to celebrate together. Simply spending time reading and praying through the first two chapters of Luke might be a good place to start.
We are eager to spend these seasons of waiting and celebrating together as a church. Please be praying that our church would be built up, that our faith would be made stronger, and that our love for Jesus would be be magnified for the world to see.