Monday, December 3, 2012

The Journey of Advent Has Begun!

What is this “Advent” we have entered?

First of all, it’s not Christmas … yet. In the Western church, the season of Christmas (also called Christmastide) begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for twelve days, ending on January 6. The twelve days of Christmas did not start with the song … it was the other way around! I love to keep the Christmas lights up until January 6. I’m often the last holdout on the street where I live.

The time before Christmas is Advent, a season of preparation. This tradition is much older than contemporary cultural Christmas traditions. It’s not time to say “Merry Christmas” yet. Christians prepare for the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Old Testament prophets for a Messiah. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” We keep in mind both “advents” of Christ, the first in Bethlehem, and the second which is yet to come.

Some people, as children, have Advent calendars, decorative paper displays with 25 little “windows,” one of which you can open each day of December leading up to Christmas. Some Advent calendars are made of wood and featuring 25 little boxes with treasures inside. Many families light the Advent wreath at home, not just at church, and this has always been a rich part of my family’s life. Last week I emailed the people of the church I serve a sample order for Advent worship and devotions in the home around the wreath.

If you’re from a tradition that is unfamiliar with Advent, I imagine that it’s odd to think of the weeks before Christmas as something more than Christmastime. There are things about Advent that you might find odd if you’re unfamiliar with it. The strangest might be the color scheme. We associate Christmas with the typical Christmas colors of red, green, and white. Advent, on the other hand, features purple (or dark blue). The purple color signifies royalty (purple was in ancient times the most expensive dye, associated with kings and queens). We are, indeed, longing for a king. Come, Lord Jesus.

Secular culture ignores Advent because there isn’t much money to be made there. I think, however, there are lots of good reasons for us to pay more attention to Advent. For one thing, we have deep longings for God to do a new thing in us. Get in touch with your yearning for Christ to be born in some new way in our broken world and in our broken hearts.