I have always been one who believes holidays should be celebrated on the day they were intended to be observed. I do not think moving holidays so that we can have a three day weekend is what was intended by those who advocated for the special celebration. When we do this, we tend to reduce them down to just another three day weekend.
I feel the same way about the liturgical season we are about to enter, that is the season of Advent. Advent runs from the 27th of November until the 24th of December and is a season that is set apart from the Christmas season that begins with the celebration of Christ’s birth on the 25th of December and continues until January 9th the feast of the Epiphany.
The season of Advent has been truncated or removed from our line of sight altogether. Sure we have the Advent Wreath in the church and take a few moments at the start of the service each Sunday to light one of the candles but do we understand what this season is all about?
It ‘s hard to set the exact date as to when the church took up this celebration, but church historians tend to agree that there is evidence of it as early AD 480. Each of the Sundays of Advent has a theme that relates to the lectionary readings chosen for that Sunday. The first Sunday focuses on the Old Testament Patriarchs who were the ancestors of Christ. The theme is that of hope as they announce the coming of the Christ child.
The story continues on the Second Sunday, and we read about the birth of Jesus in the Manger, and we hear the long list of, what I like to call the begats. This is the list of the ancestors of Jesus that begins with Abraham and continues to Joseph. This list was included in the Gospel of Matthew as a way to show the lineage and the Kingship of Jesus and that he come from the line of Abraham. This second Sunday is called Bethlehem Sunday since the focus is on the birth narrative.
We then come to the mid-point in Advent and the theme is Joy. We are introduced to the character of John the Baptist with the readings of his birth and the prophecy of what he would accomplish as the herald that announces the start of the earthly ministry of Jesus. John the Baptist is often reduced to just that guy in the strange clothes and the strange diet. John had an important message of hope for the people, and his is an important story.
Passing the mid-point on the final Sunday of Advent we hear the story of the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary by the Angel Gabriel. This Sunday is often known as Angel Sunday to give attention to the Angel that brought tidings of great joy to Mary. The importance of this story is that a young woman, Mary, said yes to the Angel of God who was asking her to do something that she just could not understand but so deep was her faith and trust in God that she simply said yes.
And that brings us to the end of Advent. Advent is the season of preparation and expectation, and we should not gloss over it and move right to Christmas. We all enjoy the festivities of Christmas, and they should continue until the 9th of January, but we have to go through the time of Advent first. One does not sit down to the meal without a little bit of preparation. Slow down and take some time during the next four weeks to focus on what is coming.
This essay originally appeared in The Beacon, the Church Newsletter of Bethany Congregational Church, UCC