Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Season of Advent

It’s all about the waiting….

Patience is a virtue, and that virtue is really apparent when it comes to this season of Advent. Kids are excited about Santa coming and “can’t wait” to open gifts, people are frustrated waiting in lines to pay for their purchases, and for our society who relies so much on things that are time-saving and our communications that are so immediate, waiting and patience are words that don’t seem to exist in our world today.

However, the journey from Advent 1 to Epiphany unfolds as all good stories should, step by step. This is very apparent at a service like Lessons and Carols where we tell the story in order - the longing, the waiting, the anticipation and finally the birth, the angels and shepherds and the wise men. This service tells the whole story and Advent, Christmas and Epiphany carols are all part of that.

In an article by Lester Ruth from the periodical “Reformed Worship” (Issue 69), Ruth talks about the traditional emphasis on Advent as a season of anticipation. Although the classic calendar and the lectionary say that Christmas is December 25 and the 12 days following, if you ask people when the Christmas season is - many people would reply, “As soon as Halloween is over.”

It seems that the bigger Christmas (or the “holiday season” as the consumerist advertising has called it) has become, the more Christmas has swallowed up Advent. Many churches today are trying to consciously keep the season of Advent to maintain a clear countercultural witness to all-too-common December overindulgence. An observance of Advent is growing steadily in many churches and many Christian homes. However the secular culture ignores Advent, as there isn’t much money to be made on patience or waiting. So, the Christmas music continues in the malls, the decorations start to go up before Halloween, and the themes of Advent – hope, peace, joy and love are largely ignored.

In a blog written by Cory Howell he says that even to many churchgoers, Advent and the Christmas season are one and the same. By the time Christmas has arrived many people don’t want to sing Christmas carols anymore, as they have heard them in the malls since before Halloween. Secular practice and sacred tradition have become extremely blurred.

Yet by using the image of a people in darkness who are waiting for the coming light, we could bring back some of the meaning into our Christmas celebrations. As Howell says, instead of indulging in the worst kind of consumerism, as many do every year at this time, perhaps we could focus a bit more on our spiritual poverty, our need for something more meaningful than our everyday hustle and bustle, which is usually amplified during this time of year. It’s about trying to find that inner peace, silence, and space.

In a blog by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, he claims that if we just jump straight into Christmas, we not only miss out on the activities and music associated with Advent, but miss out on the celebration of the full season of Christmas, too. The seasons of the church year can enrich worship and the worshippers lives. Taking time in Advent to focus on Christ’s coming, makes it more joyful when it does arrive at Christmas.

This is why we try not to sing Christmas carols in church before Christmas Eve, and why we focus on the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. They help us prepare for Christmas, and help us to be counter-cultural. What better message can we as Christians send to the world - that we should have hope, create peace, live joyfully and share our love with others in our world.

The United Church Moderator, Mardi Tindal expressed this sentiment very well, in her annual Advent message, “I wish you the gift of time and space to reflect on this beautiful complex world we live in, thankful for all we have been given and all that we have to give one another and God’s world—a renewed spirit of humility and awe, along with courage in our efforts toward justice and healing for all.”

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