So… Happy New Year!
What? You say to me, “Bishop, did you skip Christmas altogether?” Nope. Today marks the beginning of the new liturgical year. Do, please, allow me to explain:
Within the calendar year, there is another year: the great cycle of the liturgical year, revolving around the life and ministry Christ. Each season of the liturgical year has its own focus, feasts, words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world. words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world.
Since the 900s, Advent has marked the beginning of the church year, and is a season of great anticipation, preparation, and excitement, traditionally focusing on the Nativity of the Christ Child, when Jesus came as our Savior. During Advent, we as Christians also direct our thoughts to His second coming as judge.
The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, meaning coming,” and is celebrated during the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.
Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life.
In this double focus on past and future, 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. That acknowledgment provides a basis 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. As the church celebrates God’s Incarnation in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, 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.”
We celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of final judgment is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment of sin. This is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge, the world.
Because of the dual themes of judgment and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isaiah 9).
As we prepare ourselves for the coming Christmas season, let us also remember that we are in Advent, preparing for the coming of Christ, our King. May all of you have a meaningful, blessed, and holy, Advent.