Monday, November 29, 2010

What is Advent?

If you want to do a serious research project on this question, you would start with the Wikipedia article on Advent, which is actually a pretty good introduction.

Advent is a season in the church year, a time to spiritually prepare for Christ coming into the world. It varies in length, because there are always four Sundays in Advent, and Christmas, being a fixed date, can be any day of the week. (By my calculations, this year, because December 25th falls on a Saturday, the Advent season is one day less than the longest it could possibly be -- if Christmas fell on a Sunday.)

Advent also marks the beginning of the church year and the lectionary cycle.

The gospel text for Sunday (yesterday) is about the second coming of Christ. The key verses are Matthew 24:42 and 24:44: "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." and "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." Every year, the beginning of the church year is marked by looking forward to the end (yes, The End), which, in the Biblical story, is the return of Christ. It's always interesting to me the way a very long timeline lines up with a yearly cycle -- in order to prepare our hearts (once again, this year) for the coming of Christ (in the manger), we are encouraged to PREPARE for the Second Coming of Christ. We look forward to the coming of Christ in a unique way at the same time as we prepare to welcome the child in the manger according to the cyclical remembrance.

Perhaps the most important part of this text and the larger Advent focus is the repetition of admonitions -- Keep Awake, Be Ready, Prepare. Because Light, Love, Redemption and Salvation both came in a unique way, on a long timeline, and reappear in our lives in a cyclical way. So we need to be awake, ready, prepared for Christ to appear -- in the face of a stranger, the love of a friend, a transformational glimpse of beauty, a new challenge that brings us life, or an ordinary miracle, like the birth of a new baby.

I hope that I am ready, and can prepare my heart this Advent and beyond, to receive the Light wherever it appears.

In La Misión Cristiana, the church we are working with here, as far as I know, Advent is not an important season in their church year. They don't follow the traditional Western liturgical calendar (and I hope to learn more about the theological, historical, and cultural reasons behind that). I do, however, see them as open, awake, prepared, ready to see and respond to the ways that God enters the world. Some of those ways are familiar to me, and others less so. I expect that this will be just one of many ways that we will learn more from these brothers and sisters than we could ever hope to teach.


  1. What's your take on advent wreaths? According to wikipedia (the ultimate resource reference ;-) the history of their origin is still disputed, along with color variations for the candles (I remember them being 3 purple and a pink with a white one in the middle for Christmas, growing up) between different sects.

  2. I wasn't raised following any real liturgical calendar either. Certainly, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but I'd never even heard of giving something up for Lent until I came to the East Coast for college. I suspect some of the reason was that the Lent stuff was suspiciously Catholic-sounding. (That also goes for Advent, though we did get those chocolate-filled Advent calendars when I was a little older.) From what I remember of the general mindset, it also just felt weird to "prepare" for the holiday. (This is really hard to explain in writing, and it probably won't come across quite right, but I'm going to try.)

    Things that were new to me as I was becoming Catholic: a special time for contrition and confession, the idea of any redemptive benefit to suffering, the focus on aiming to grow spiritually. The way it felt to me growing up was that I was completely undeserving of love or of going to Heaven, and no amount of effort on my part was going to improve that at all. All that depraved humans could really do was be grateful for God's grace and wait for Him to make us perfect. I knew intellectually that the Bible encouraged us to grow spiritually, but as far as I could tell, my efforts were basically defined as useless before being saved, and they continued to be useless afterwards unless God wanted to do something with them. I did devotions because I knew I should.

    We should talk about this in person sometime. I think I can convey the feel of things better that way.

    Looking forward to more LauraJean thoughts! :)