Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Seasons of the Church (part II): Advent

Greeting by Sr. Claire Joy, Digital art, October 2008.
This was taken from the blog 
"What is Advent?", a friend recently asked me.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas in the church calendar, in which we celebrate the coming of our Savior, Christ.  It is, as Ireton calls it, a "season of waiting".  Our waiting is twofold: we await the celebration of God coming into our world as a human (the incarnation) called Jesus, and we look forward to that day when he will return.

Ireton writes a bit about the origins of Advent:
Advent originated as a period of fasting in preparation for the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas), most likely in Gaul (modern day France).  This pre-Christmas fast was practiced in some form by the late 400s, though it wasn't until the second half of the sixth century, when prayers and scriptural texts for the Sundays preceding Christmas began to be written and selected, that Advent as we know it came into being. (18)
How is it relevant to us today?  Ireton challenges us to let it shape us:
If we were to observe Advent as the season of thoughtful reflection and repentance that it has traditionally been, we would have an opportunity to ... rethink our priorities, to realign our lives with God's desire for us, to seek forgiveness and start anew... To spend the weeks before Christmas in this way would be radically countercultural, to be sure, but it would also serve to remind us that we are waiting for Christmas -- and that the celebration of Christmas is worth waiting for. (21)

I will talk more about the 'basics' of Advent.  As you will see, with each part of the celebration of the church is associated a color.  Purple is the color of Advent, symbolic of repentance as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

Each Sunday has a slightly different traditional focus, or "watchword":

  • Wait - not passive, bored waiting, but "active waiting", as Nouwen calls it.  Ireton also points out that "in Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope" (22). 
  • Prepare -  As John the Baptist urged those who would listen before Jesus came, and as Christ warned us, we must be ready for the coming of Christ.  Ireton points out how appropriate this is in the context of the rest of the church year:   " Advent follows a long season of Ordinary Time in which the busyness and dailyness of our lives can distract us, making us forget to pay attention or to remember that we are living in expectation of Christs return.  That is why we need Advent -- it reminds us to pay attention, to be on gaurd, to keep watch that we might be ready for Christ when he comes again" (24)
  • Rejoice - The color pink is used on the third Sunday as a symbol of joy.  Mary's joy is particularly a focus.  I found it particularly meaningful to think about the story of Mary in terms of the way in which God is working.  As Ireton writes, "It is God who does these great things, to be sure, as Mary herself proclaims, but how great a God we serve, that he would allow us, invite us, long for us to participate in his redeeming work in the world."  Yes indeed, how great a God we serve!
  • Love - traditionally associated with Joseph.  It is time when we are challenged both to love and to see more of God's love.  Ireton explains that "Joseph's love for Mary and for Jesus, with its attendant self-sacrifice, points beyond itself, giving us a glimpse of God's great outpouring of himself in love for all of us, love that is seen so clearly in the incarnation, the coming of the God who created the cosmos to live among us as one of us"
Advent is quite possibly my favorite part of the year.  I have many memories of lighting the advent candles with my family and each week seeing the light grow in our darkened house.  It is a time that teaches us to wait in the darkness so that we can really understand that light which we know and for which we hope.

There is so much more I could say that I'm guessing there will probably be more posts on the subject.  I hope this has helped you think about the four weeks ahead in a different way.  I know I am challenged to consider what I will do to incorporate into my life this kind of "active" - not busy - waiting.

How are you going to celebrate Advent this year?

1 comment:

  1. I have already posted some on the topic of Advent. The fastest way to these posts is to click on "Advent" in the tag cloud on the right.