Part of a series of occasional reflections over the weeks of Advent initially created with the hope of encouraging the reader to embrace keeping the season of Advent. Advent resources have continued to grow on the Emerging Scholars Network blog over the course of the past several years. Charlie Clauss’ tireless labors through the Keeping Advent Facebook Group have been a blessing to many individuals and families seeking after the Lord during this busy time of year. ~ Tom Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network, 11/22/2016
Here we are in Thanksgiving week. Turkeys are thawing. Cranberry ice is freezing. Grandmothers throughout the land are preparing for the loud, chaos-bringing arrival of grandchildren. And in countless department, toy, electronics, sports, and other stores, retailers are eagerly (if with some anxiety) awaiting the Friday after Thanksgiving, commonly known as “Black Friday” (because they hope that the profits made that day will set them on the positive side of the accounting ledger).
Known to fewer people, the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Advent. This is a season of waiting and preparing for Christmas. Advent runs through the four Sundays preceding Christmas (this year Advent is as long as it can be, with Christmas falling on a Sunday). November 27 will be the “First Sunday in Advent,” and each Sunday following being respectively the second, third, and fourth. Advent ends at sundown on December 24 – Christmas Eve.
Why Bother with Advent?
Why should we bother with a thing like Advent? Christmas is the “real deal” – God coming to us in Jesus. Shouldn’t we just start celebrating Christmas just as soon as we can? There are several reasons.
First, Christians as early as the 6th century began keeping Advent. For even longer, they had kept a time of preparation for Easter during the season of Lent. As the celebration of Jesus’ nativity was standardized to December 25, it became natural to also prepare for Jesus’ birth with a time of penitence and reflection.
Second, by delaying our celebration of Christmas, we can identify with the Jewish people who longed for the coming of Messiah as they waited century after century. Simeon’s cry – “Lord now let your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29) – becomes our cry as we contemplate the long years of God’s silence. Further, we can enter into those times in our own lives when God seems to be silent.
Third, Advent gives us a very powerful perspective on Jesus. In Advent, we think about three “comings” – his first coming to Mary and Joseph, his final coming at the end of all things, and his coming to each of us in the meantime. As we ponder each of these, our knowledge of Jesus grows deeper and deeper. It is in the idea of Jesus second coming that we are reminded that we still live in a time of waiting, and God calls us to wait well – in obedience and joy to His call on our lives.
Finally, we need Advent in our modern setting to allow us to clear away the noise and confusion caused by our culture’s frenetic materialistic binge surrounding Christmas. Waiting is not easy in the best of times, but our world makes waiting for Christmas impossible. Advent comes to us as a great gift, a reminder that Christmas was God’s idea! Advent, with its “boney elbows” – reflection and penitence – can muscle into our lives and give us breathing space in a culture that wants us to “buy, buy, buy.”
If you are looking for some resources, I can recommend a few:
First, Focus on the Family has a simple Advent guide available online. This provides readings and simple ideas to observe Advent.
Second, I recommend Bobby Gross’ book Living the Christian Year (order from IVP or Hearts and Minds Books). This will get you started on the whole Christian year, starting obviously with Advent. (Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Mike’s 2009 interview with Bobby about the book.)
Finally, join us on Facebook at my group Keeping Advent, where members provide ideas, resources, and encouragement.
I wish you a blessed Advent!