Did any of you grow up with “Advent calendars”—you know, where every day you open a pop-out door to get a nugget of candy—to count down the days until Christmas? Our Advent calendars were definitely one of my favorite parts of the holiday season when I was growing up. As a kid, I was just excited to eat chocolate and to see December 25 getting closer every day, but as an adult the season of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas Day) has come to mean so much more to me.
From the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” the season of Advent is a time of expectant waiting, joyful anticipation, and reflective preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus at Christmas. The season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting for the coming of the Messiah as well as our continued waiting for his second coming. It is a season of expectant longing for the Messiah—the one who will come to set the world right. Advent, then, is a season characterized primarily by waiting (something many of us may have forgotten how to do at all, much less do well).
Implicit in this period of waiting is the acknowledgement that our world is broken and that we desperately need the Messiah to bring healing and salvation. One of the paradoxes of the season is that we recognize that with the birth of Christ the Messiah has already come, yet we cannot help recognizing that God’s kingdom of peace and justice has not yet fully come. That is, we have healing and salvation for our souls through Jesus, but we still live in a world that is fundamentally broken, unjust, and deeply in need of healing. We see the poor, the hungry, and the hurting, and we long for those promises to be fulfilled. For me, part of the wisdom of Advent is its open acknowledgement of human longing—and its magnetic pull back toward Christ, the Expected One. Advent gives a clear answer to our disappointment with the brokenness of the world: of course all is not well right now—we are waiting for the one who will make all things well.
Remember those childhood Advent calendars I mentioned earlier? Well, there is an adult version: the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath is a circle (symbolic of eternity and a reminder that God has no beginning or end and God’s kingdom is eternal) made of evergreen branches (symbolic of eternal life and a reminder that God is unchangeable). There are five candles on the wreath, which are lit on each of the four Sundays of Advent and on Christmas Day. The first candle (purple) is the Prophecy candle, or candle of Hope; the second (also purple) is the Bethlehem candle, or the candle of Preparation; the third (pink) is the Shepherds’ candle, or the candle of Joy; the fourth (purple again) is the Angels’ candle, or the candle of Love; the fifth candle (white) in the center is the Christ candle. Three of the candles are purple, reminding us of the penitential and reflective nature of the season—it is a time to prepare our hearts to meet Immanuel, God-With-Us, and a time to remember that our God came (and comes) to meet with us. A pink candle is lit on the third Sunday, reminding us that our waiting is almost over and we can hardly contain our joy. The Christ candle, lit on Christmas Day, is white, reminding us of his purity and his sacrifice. Each Sunday, a candle is lit and a particular passage of scripture or responsive reading from the liturgy is read that corresponds to that week’s theme.
During the next few weeks, I will be writing some reflections about the season of Advent and its themes, and I want to invite you to join me in celebrating Advent this year. One of the ways Westgate is celebrating Advent is participating in a movement called the Advent Conspiracy—a movement that suggests that if Christians are celebrating the coming of Christ during Advent, they ought to be intentionally practicing the message of Christ during Advent (and always for that matter). Here’s a blurb from the Advent Conspiracy website about the movement:
“The story of Christ’s birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love. So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a Savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists. And when it’s all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas? What if Christmas became a world-changing event again? That’s what Advent Conspiracy is all about: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All. Christmas can [still] change the world.”
Check out the rest of their website (http://www.AdventConspiracy.org), and consider taking the challenge. We believe that the coming of Christ changed the world and that the message of Christ is revolutionary. How would our Christmas season and—much more importantly—our lives and our world change if we acted like it?
Author: Alicia McClintic