Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Season of Advent

You know, I thought that surely, after turning 17, I knew all there was to know in this world. Today, I was proven wrong. Today, I learned something new. I am still not sure how I feel about this discovery that I am not all-knowing. . .but while I am pondering that, let me share with you my lesson today. (By the way, it is going to be pretty long, but there is some good stuff in here, so try to stick with it. )

Do you celebrate Advent? Do you even know what it is? I thought that all Christians celebrated Advent, but today I discovered that it's really only celebrated by Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches. I was shocked! For me, Advent is juts as much a part of Christmas as the tree or nativity set. So here I have a little lesson for all of you non-Lutherans in the mystical "Ways of the Lutheran Church."

Before I explain Advent, I should tell you a little something about the Church Year. I took this from a Q&A section on the Missouri Synod Lutheran website (wait, Lutherans know about internet? no way!):
"Advent begins the church year because the church year begins where Jesus' earthly life began--in the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation. After Advent comes Christmas, which is about his birth; then Epiphany, about his miracles and ministry; then Lent, about his Calvary-bound mission; then Easter, about his resurrection and the sending of the apostles; and then Ascension (40 days after Easter) and Pentecost, with the sending of the Holy Spirit.The first half of the church year highlights the life of Christ. The second half teachings of Christ. The parables and miracles play a big part here. That's the church year in a nutshell, and it should help reveal how Advent fits into "the big picture."

So right now, we are part way through the season of Advent. The word Advent comes from a Latin word which means "coming." Advent then, is the time of waiting and preparation for the coming of our Lord. It focuses on the past, present, and future: 1.) the past, through recognition of the waiting of the Hebrews for their Messiah, 2.) the present, as we prepare our hearts each and every Christmas, keeping our focus on this great gift we have recieved, and 3.) the future, bringing to mind the waiting we do even today, as we expectantly look for the Second Coming of our Lord.

Being Lutheran, we celebrate Advent with much gusto. For many people, this simply means a midweek service (which for some reason has always included a soup supper. . . can you say "tradition?"), which they attend as a matter of course, and slightly longer Sunday morning services, because the acolyte has to light the Advent candles. Oh yes, and the altar vestments, and Pastor's mantle thing-y change from red to purple.

But for our family, and many families around the world, it is so much more! What do we personally do for Advent? First, we have an Advent calendar, which young and old alike can enjoy. You may have seen these, or perhaps you even have one of your own. Generally, they depicted a nativity scene, covered with little windows. Each window has a number, all the way up to 24. Each day of Advent, a new window is opened. Often they have a verse that refers to something in the story of Christmas, building up to the last day, and the arrival of Christ.

Now this is certainly fun, but my favorite part of Advent is the wreath. It contains five candles; four standing in a circle around a center one. Each Sunday of Advent, a new candle is lit, with the fifth one being lit on Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day, depending on your family/church). Three of the outside candles are purple, for the royalty of the coming King. One is pink, and (through some deeply mysterious Lutheran logic) this candle is used to represent rejoicing. Here is a picture of one, without the center candle.

Generally, each candle is used to represent some aspect of the Christmas story. It changes from church to church and family to family, but we like to say that the first week is the prophecy or hope candle, focusing on the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Christ. The second reminds us of John the Baptist, and has been called the preparation candle. This speaks to us as we each also "prepare the way" for the King to enter our own hearts. The third candle, which is pink (remember, pink = rejoicing?) is the shepherd or joy candle, which brings to mind the overwhelming joy the shepherd felt as they were brought the message of Christ's birth. Oh that we would share their joy each and every day! Fourth is the peace, or angel candle, which reminds us of the peace of God, which is with us as we wait even today for His Second Coming. Lastly, the Christ Candle, white for the purity of that little baby who was laid in the manger.

So there you have it, the story of Advent. It's not just another one of those crazy liturgical traditions, recognized only by dead or dying churches as a matter of tradition. (Oh, you certainly weren't thinking anything like that, now were you?) Far from it. . . it is a beautiful season, in which we are reminded to prepare ourselves as we wait for the celebration of our Savior's birth, and his Second Coming. This Advent season, let's prepare for Christmas not only by putting up lights, rushing around buying and wrapping presents, or decorating Christmas cookies (although these things are certainly fun and worth-while endeavors) -- but let's also celebrate by stopping to think of just what we are celebrating.

A joyous third Sunday of Advent to you and your family!



justin said...

haha! i knew about that! parts of it anyway. in fact we used to do the advent calendar when us kids were smaller

Amy Q said...

Well, we were raised Christian Reformed and we celbrated Advent too! I miss it ALOT! The trouble with traditions is that they can loose the reason if we just go through the motions -- Advent -- a time of preparing, is SO important in this day and age! Thanks for laying it all out so clearly! And may our hearts be ready for the best gift this Christmas!
Amy Q

animalover said...

Of course I celebrate advent.. And lent.. And all that :)

"Nenette" said...

Hello! Apperently Mom has been following your blog without telling me you had one! You can check out mine if you want; its mostly pictures though.
We celebrate Advent, and use the wreath, too. Lighting the wreath has become a tradition- we try to do it every meal but usually only manage on Sundays. We don't have a center candle. I wonder if only Lutherns do that or if we just forgot. :) We read a Scripture reading before lighting each candle. As one of the replys above said, traditions can lose their meaning if they are done without thought, but if you really pay attention, they can mean so much.
Some years we do an Advent calander, but it focuses more on getting the little gifts and candies in it than on Christ, so we didn't do it this year.
We also do a Jesse Tree some years. It's a little tree that you hang pictures of Biblical scenes on, stories leading up to the birth of Christ. I forget because we haven't done it in awhile.
Anyway, now that Advent is over, I wish you and your family a very blessed Christmas season!