An Advent Calendar Musing - 12/7/2022
Depending on your religious upbringing and religious experiences, you may or not be familiar with the liturgical calendar and the seasons of the church year.
Many folks if asked about the church holidays or seasons would say Christmas and Easter. They might add Palm Sunday, and some would add Thanksgiving. (FYI - Thanksgiving is not a church holiday or season.)
However, the truth is that the church or liturgical calendar recognizes the festivals and seasons of the Christian year. This calendar offers a way to order the annual life of the church according to the life of Christ and the events of salvation history.
The Presbyterian Church Directory for Worship elaborates on these practices with the following statement:
As God created and appointed days, God created a rhythm of time and appointed seasons for worship. In the Old Testament, people observed seasons of fasting and feasting as occasions for festival worship of God. Jesus kept these festivals. For the Church in the New Testament, the festivals were transformed in meaning and purpose by Jesus’ life and teaching, his death and resurrection, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return give meaning to the seasons which order the annual rhythm of worship and guide the selection of lessons to be read and proclaimed in the life of the Church. (W-1.3013)
Through two millennia of Christian worship, a certain cycle of festivals and seasons has emerged and is now recognized and observed throughout the ecumenical church. Some of these events (Pentecost, Holy Week and Epiphany) can be traced to the earliest centuries of Christian practice; others (Trinity Sunday and Christ the King, e.g.) developed later in the history of the church.
The Directory for Worship found in the PCUSA Book of Church Order provides a helpful outline of these festivals and seasons. In it we find these words:
God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ offers the Church a central pattern for ordering worship in relationship to significant occasions in the life of Jesus and of the people of God. The Church thus has come to observe the following days and seasons:
· Advent, a season to recollect the hope of the coming of Christ, and to look forward to the Lord’s coming again,
· Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Christ,
· Epiphany, a day for commemorating God’s self-manifestation to all people,
· Lent, a season of spiritual discipline and preparation, beginning with Ash Wednesday, anticipating the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ,
· Holy Week, a time of remembrance and proclamation of the atoning suffering and death of Jesus Christ,
· Easter, the day of the Lord’s resurrection and the season of rejoicing which commemorates his ministry until his Ascension, and continues through
· the Day of Pentecost, the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
The church also observes other days such as Baptism of the Lord, Transfiguration of the Lord, Trinity Sunday, All Saints Day and Christ the King.(W-3.2002)
The annual observance of these seasons, while important, like anything that is repeated again and again can begin to feel monotonous.
And personally, I think observing Advent is particularly hard.
We want to get to Christmas after all. We want Santa and presents and eggnog and reindeer and oh yes, the babe born in a manger in Bethlehem.
We certainly don’t really want to reflect on the reason that we as humans actually needed Christ and Christ’s saving grace to be brought into this fallen world. Advent calendars require work and reflection.
We prefer the party and celebration that is Christmas. Our society likes holiday countdown calendars where you get a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine or some other treat every day from December 1-24 as you wait for the real party of Christmas.
We modern day followers of Jesus live in the midst of this conflict between the church and the world’s timetable and priorities.
And because of that conflict and the world telling us that we don’t need to engage in such hard spiritual work, the annual observance of Advent can feel like the day that keeps repeating in that classic movie Groundhog Day.
Do you remember that film Groundhog Day?
In that film, Bill Murray plays a rude and self–centered weatherman who suddenly finds that a single day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, occurs over and over, and time does not move on. He tries all sorts of things — unsuccessfully— to make it move on, but eventually realizes it’s an opportunity for him to become a different kind of person, a better person, one who can win the heart of his producer, Rita. Commenting on this movie, an editorial in The Christian Century observed, “... this lighthearted romance suggests one way to think about the mysterious intersection of God’s time and our time. What can seem like the meaningless extension of time, or the ceaseless round of same-old same-old, is in God’s time part of the work of redemption. The prolongation of history can be seen as a gift, a gift that allows us to become aware of God's purposes” (“Fullness of Time,” The Christian Century, December 6, 2000).
Thus Advent, coming year after year, gives us an opportunity to get ready, to change, to become the person God calls us to be. And if we haven’t quite made it there yet, Advent gives us another nudge to keep working at it.
Now I am not saying avoid Christmas parties and celebrations. Enjoy those Christmas tunes and movies and holiday shows. And while your doctor might tell us to avoid cookies and pies and sausage cheeseballs and eggnog, I am certainly not saying to do so.
In fact, we as Christians should lead choirs and parades with our joy. “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” should flow from our lips and our hearts. Because we as followers of the Christ child know the magnitude of the gift given to us in Bethlehem now more than 2,000 years ago.
But we should also engage in the work of Advent.
We should pray that God will help us find the good that is ours to do and then do it to the best of our abilities.
We should seek opportunities to grow in our faith.
We should spend time in spiritual practices that restore our souls.
We should study and wrestle with scripture.
We should care for the hurting and seek justice for the oppressed.
And most importantly, our Advent experiences should help us to love wildly, just as God has loved all of creation from generation to generation.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia Amen.