The Advent advantage: Why the four weeks of December matter
by Emily Carson
I was nearly oblivious to the season of Advent until I became seminary student. It was then that I took a class called Worship. During the weekly three-hour sessions, I learned about the significance of all the seasons and feast days of the church year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, just to name a few.
Yet even after taking a worship class, I still didn’t fully understand why the four weeks preceding Christmas were such a big deal. I had always loved December 25th and rejoiced in celebrating the birth of Jesus. So I wondered, “Why all the waiting and preparation? Why not just get right to the point and worship the Christ-child in the manger?”
I’ve been serving as a pastor in a congregation for the last couple years. During this time, my appreciation for Advent has thoroughly developed. In fact, it has become my favorite season of the year. In Lent, we prepare for Christ’s death and resurrection. In Advent, we get to prepare for his birth. We also get to receive the promise that someday he will come again. It’s wonderful!
Advent is a gift to us as people of faith. It is a time of the year to reconnect with the fantastic, surprising story of how Jesus came to be. Our worship, devotional practices, and rituals of daily life can take on special significance during these sacred weeks.
My friends, we don’t have to honor Advent. Christmas will come whether we immerse ourselves into the joys of these four weeks or not. The goal of this season isn’t to acknowledge Advent because we must. Instead, it’s a real opportunity to deepen the roots of our faith.
Advent is about embarking on a journey. It’s the beginning of the church year and a fresh start. It’s a time to sharpen all our senses as we voyage with Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the rest of the crew. We journey together toward that special moment when God arrived in human form and the world was forever changed.
To put it simply: Advent matters. It matters a lot. Here are a few reasons why I have fallen in love with Advent, and I hope you will, too.
Real nourishment comes from the true Light, not the seasonal sparkle. Oh how I love a good pre-Christmas sale! And oh how I enjoy the sparkling lights, ribbons, and decorations of this time of year, too. It’s great to give and receive special gifts. It’s joyful to host parties and celebrate with family and friends. But more than all that, it’s great to live in the true Light.
Advent is about reconnecting with the source of all that is, was, and will be: Jesus! Worshipping during these four weeks grounds us in beautiful hymns and meaningful Scripture readings.
One of the reasons I treasure this season so much is because of the way it centers my heart and mind. I’m easily distracted, especially at this time of year. Being intentional about celebrating Advent helps me plant my spiritual roots in soil that is sure to provide lasting nourishment.
God became human in order to be with us. Advent is a time to remember that God didn’t just drop baby Jesus into a manger haphazardly. It was an event that was thousands of years in the making! God sent Jesus to earth to show human beings that they mattered.
God didn’t want people to imagine their Creator as far-off and distant. God wanted people to know that their Creator was patient, kind, personal, forgiving, and fully-present.
Our Loving God wanted people to know for all of time that they were valuable and deserving of everlasting love. When Jesus came to earth to dwell among us, he showed all human beings the compassion of God in a way that hadn’t been experienced before.
God is here. With us. Forever. Advent provides a whole season of reminders that God has done and will do whatever it takes to help people know they are loved and forgiven.
The people who paved the way for Jesus’ birth expressed the full range of human emotions, just like us. Knowing that people in the Bible experienced questions, joys, and frustrations is helpful. It gives us the freedom to feel what we really feel, knowing we can bring it all to God.
I encourage you to read the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke during Advent. Especially, explore Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapters 1-2. Read these chapters slowly. Savor them. Notice the full range of emotions that people experience along that journey that eventually leads to the birth of Jesus. Sometimes they were afraid. Zechariah was. Sometimes they were perplexed. Mary definitely was. Other times they were joyful beyond measure. Anna and Simeon sure were! Advent gives us the opportunity to savor all the emotional details of the people who encountered God in the months before and after Jesus’ birth. It’s a time to reconnect with our own emotions, too.
I pray that the month of December is a sacred time for you. Perhaps you are a longtime fan of the season of Advent. Or maybe it’s relatively new for you, like it was for me. Either way, I hope you’re able to incorporate some new Advent traditions into your life this year.
God came and dwelt among us! And through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is with us always. Advent is our special season to prepare for the Eternal King. May your season of preparation be filled with joy, mystery, and wonderful sense of peace.
The Rev. Emily Carson is a pastor in Stewartville, Minn. She loves laughter, photography, trips to the library, and adventures. She writes daily for her blog,The Lady Pastor.
This article first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Cafe.