Every season, reams of people promise themselves that next Christmas will be different.
They will slow down, try to avoid the commercial craziness and focus more on what they say matters most – family, friends, and perhaps paying more heed to the true meaning of the Christmas season.
But often, the ‘busyness’ of the holiday season wins out anyways.
It seems to take a concentrated effort to enjoy the sentiments of the classic Christmas carol Silent Night, or It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – hymns that reflect the peacefulness and sense of gratitude that are really at the heart of Christmas.
As Noel Wygiera, priest of the St. Luke’s Anglican Church parish in Red Deer has pointed out, traditions like advent help to bring a sense of reflection and heightened meaning to Christmas. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Dec. 25th.
And of course, there are a variety of ways that the public looks at advent. There are advent calendars for children, for example.
But exploring the tradition shows what lies at the heart of advent. Churches mark it in differing ways, but essentially it can include scripture readings and lighting an advent candle each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word ‘adventus’, which means ‘coming.’
According to www.Christianity.com, scholars believe that during the fourth and fifth centuries in Spain and Gaul, advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and his first miracle at Cana.
During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between advent and Christmas. “It was not until the Middle Ages that the advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
“In the same way, the church, during advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel perfectly represents the church’s cry during the advent season.”
Wygiera describes it as a quiet time of reflection and preparation. “All of the lessons through advent have that dual purpose. It’s about preparing ourselves not just to celebrate what happened in the past but to anticipate what’s going to happen in the future. It’s not really a ‘countdown’, but more of a ‘building up’.”
By Christmas Eve, all four of the advent candles are lit.
Chris Armstrong, in his article entitled Advent: Close Encounters of a Liturgical Kind in Christian History Magazine, shared of his personal thoughts of how the tradition impacts him.
“Every year these rich scriptural reminders and the traditional prayers that accompany them set my blood rushing a little faster and bring a rising excitement: Christ came with plenty of prior notice. Prophets and angels joined to proclaim his coming. And now I can join too, with the cloud of witnesses stretching back to apostolic times, in the same proclamation!
“And in the protected, quiet times of meditation, I can respond as I imagine believers have done on every advent since the tradition began: I can bow my head and prepare my heart to receive the One who is always present, but who seems distant in the busyness of the season. I can mourn for my hardness of heart. I can hope in his grace. And I can rejoice that in answer to the cry, O come, O come, Emmanuel, he came.
“Would I really be able to do this – in the midst of December’s commercial rush of lights, decorations, present-buying, and piped-in carols – without a gently insistent, weekly liturgical pattern?”
Wygiera has also told a story he came across from Malcolm Guite, associate chaplain of St. Edward’s – Cambridge in England, that gets to the heart of what advent symbolizes.
“He tells the story of where some friends of his went to Greece, and they were in rural areas. They were from London, and it had been a long time since they had seen the stars because the light pollution in London is so great. He said that part of the reason advent has been somewhat lost is that we suffer from ‘liturgical light pollution’. We’re so focused on the glitz and glamour around Christmastime that we’re missing this season of preparation.”
As Guite points out so eloquently, ‘It’s a promise that even in the waiting – advent is the season of waiting – that there will be renewal and hope.”
Sadly, many people, point out that they look forward to Christmas being over with all its rush. That’s a really sad thing, because in many ways and for a number of reasons, it can be viewed sincerely as the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’