When I was a kid, my mom made my sister and I an Advent Calendar where we received a piece of candy every day leading up to Christmas. We looked forward to waking up each morning and getting a new piece of candy and having a visual (and tasty) way to mark the progress to Christmas. At dinner time, we would light the candles of our Advent wreath, read from a devotional, and sing a Christmas hymn.
But what is Advent and why is it important?
Advent is the beginning of the Christian Liturgical Calendar. It marks a new season and rhythm for the church. In many churches, you’ll see that the paraments (the colored cloths on the altar, pulpit and other places which mark the liturgical seasons) have changed from Green to Purple or Blue to mark the season of Advent. (If you’re in a liturgical church, look for the change of colors and ask “why are the colors different this week?”)
Here is why Advent is so important: Advent is a season of looking for the return of Jesus. This is different than counting down the days to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Advent invites us to recognize that we live, as Fleming Rutledge writes, in “The Time Between.” Rutledge writes, “The time of the coming of Christ is now, in the Word preached and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But the time of the coming of Christ to consummate all things is not-yet, and there is nothing whatever that human beings can do to hasten that coming.” (Rutledge- Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ.”)
What does this mean? While Jesus has “already” come and through the Cross and Resurrection has accomplished God’s redemptive purposes, we are living with the effects of sin still. We have “not-yet” experienced the fullness of God’s Kingdom. The “Time Between” is this “already but not yet” tension that we experience as Christians. We live in the victory of Jesus while seeing the effects of the Enemy all around us. We long for, and look for Christ return for the final victory.
If your church preaches from the Lectionary (a three-year cycle of assigned scriptures used in various Christian traditions), you’ll notice that the scriptures for Advent are not scriptures about the birth of Jesus. They are Scriptures of Judgment and Hope. We live under judgment (and are warned of the judgment that will occur when Jesus returns), but we have hope that when we turn to Jesus that we will be saved.
In short, Advent is a season of longing and looking for the return of Jesus to redeem the world. It is a time of preparation so that we might be ready for Jesus’ return. It is a season of repentance and hope as we turn from our sin and turn back to God’s love shown through Jesus Christ. When we do this- then we will be ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a deeper way, and to be looking out for the return of Jesus each day.
How do you celebrate Advent in your family? Your church?