By Rev. John Campbell
United Presbyterian, Oakdale
Let me say that I grew up not really knowing about a Christian year. My parents were Baptist and were active in our church. We knew about Christmas, Easter, and maybe a little about Lent. Yet we were not taught concerning the liturgical practices of Catholics and other high church folks. Advent played very little role in my pre-Christmas consciousness.
It was not until later in life after I began to study the history of worship in the Christian church that I learned about the Christian year beginning with Advent. One article I read really had an influence on knowing more on this subject. It involved Ms. Kathryn Koob, one of the hostages in Iran, that told of how she used her memory of the Christian year to keep her faith.
The signposts of the year are Advent, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and Christ the King. All of these flow out of the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
The word Advent comes from Latin and Greek with the meaning of “coming.” A key promise of Jesus to his disciples is that he is coming again. I have appreciated that the meaning of Christ coming the second time to claim his own is a source of hope. There is the meaning of ‘coming’ that entails the reflection of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. And a third meaning is in the ‘coming’ of Christ into the life of a believer.
I like the idea of Advent as a preparing for the return of Christ, rather than preparing for Christmas. Many forget that the season of Christmas is from December 24 till January 5th. By making the effort to celebrate Advent we can separate the secular Christmas from the spiritual. We are so bombarded by the commercial aspects of Christmas in the media that it is hard to keep our minds focus on Jesus the Christ. Yet by making the effort to look to Jesus and his promised return, we can enrich our spiritual life.
Having both a present and a past aspect, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. Our acknowledging this provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Observing Advent enriches our celebration of Christmas and allows us to have a precious, peaceful, God-focused experience. It is not an endless cycle, we are moving higher and near to being in God’s presence forever.
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