Advent means ‘Coming’ and is the name of the church season just before Christmas, usually beginning with the fourth Sunday before December 25. There are Advent wreaths, candles, calendars and more to infuse each day with increasing anticipation. We anticipate not just the immediate Christmas Day celebration, but we also remember the first Christmas by reading about Zachariah, Elizabeth, the angels, Mary, Joseph, prophets, shepherds and wise men. The fullness of Christmas and Advent is realized when we turn our gaze to the future, when our risen living Lord will come once and for all. This is Advent: the preparation and anticipation of the coming Christ; past, present and future.
For the years of my childhood in the Episcopal church, Advent was a foregone conclusion. We observed it every year, with all the proverbial bells and smells. As a young married couple, my husband and I attended a non-liturgical church that didn't use the word Advent, but still enjoyed several activities to build anticipation for the coming of Christ. We supplemented their offerings with our own Christ-centered traditions.
This year, I asked my current church family members if they participate in Advent. Boy, the crickets were out in force!! No one knew what I was talking about and no one seemed particularly interested in hearing about it.
I've been thinking about what happened since then. I may have asked the question poorly. I should have said, 'how do you celebrate Advent?'
The fact is, very few people living in America can escape Advent without making considerable effort. Christmas is everywhere from about Halloween to the end of the year. Songs, decorations, movies, shopping, parties, food, greetings... Unbelievers are often as into the preparations as believers, so how can believers say they don't prepare for Christmas? Why would they even want to say such a thing?
I know some believers shy away from certain forms of terminology, seemingly fearful of being mistaken for the 'wrong' denomination. But if there is a time for the Church to be united, wouldn't the celebration of The Christ's incarnation be a good one? I would encourage all believers to educate themselves and learn some new words, because they aren't at all scary. If we know them, we can connect further with brothers and sisters in unified joy.
The big question is how do we show that we are anticipating the coming of Christ, rather than just the coming of December 25? I mean, if Advent is all around us, we have the choice to be clear about just what it is we are anticipating with great joy! Jesus said we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). John told us to not love the world or anything in the world, or we do not have the Father in us (1John 2:15-17). James reiterated that if we are friends of this world, we are enemies to God (James 4:4). Yikes! So if our preparations for a holiday central to our faith is formed by the traditions and impressions of this culture, consider if these are holy and acceptable forms of worship to our most worthy God and King.
I would encourage believers to set aside time each day of this joyful season to focus on the One worth our worship, Who brings peace to every heart that welcomes Him. The fact is, you are probably observing Advent either way; why not be purposeful and righteous in it?
We have a few traditions to help us remember it is Christ's coming that we anticipate. We most often begin with decorating the house to high-volume carols. We read one of the following each night: Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage or Tabitha's Travels. These are loosely linked stories of three young people adventuring through the month before Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, learning Truth along the way. We have a few favorite movies, including The Very First Noel. I like to go caroling, but we haven't managed it in the last several years. We do exchange gifts and play what we call the 'stocking game.' We talk about how Santa Claus is a legend borne from the inspiring life of a man who loved God and others. We have an Advent calendar where we add felt pieces to a nativity scene and an advent wreath with candles we light during our story time. In my personal devotion time, I add several plans that take me through prophesies and the Scriptures detailing the first Christmas. Among our most cherished traditions, we participate in several charitable activities. I prefer to observe the admonition to not let the left hand know what the right is doing (Matthew 6:3). But if you are looking for ideas, I invite you to check out your local shelters, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision and other organizations. But charity doesn’t have to be only through large scale callings. Be alert and prayerful so that you may see the needs you can fill in personal ways.
So, I put it to you. How do you observe Advent? If it isn’t something you have thought much about, realize that our culture is already leading you through the season. Maybe you can make some careful choices to permeate and persuade this world with love and light, rather than passively being invaded and occupied by all the things that Christ’s wonderful coming is not.