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.

7 Comments


Sherry Draxler says:
Dec 04, 2012

Great article. I feel now that I know why the four weeks of December are so very special in our lives. This will help me stay focused during this very special time of the year.

Pam says:
Dec 04, 2012

Thank you for the thoughtful ideas. I hope to be more intentional about incorporating more meaningful traditions this Advent season. Amen!

Susan Glassmoyer says:
Dec 04, 2012

I would like to ask for permission to copy this for distribution to my Evangelism committee at my church. It would be a hand-out of approx. 10 copies and would not be published in any other form. Full credit will be given. As a side note, we, too, are a Lutheran church. Thank you for your consideration.

Norma L. Karpiscak says:
Dec 04, 2012

This was wonderful. Thanks for all your ideas. I would like to read this to our Congregational Council with your permission.

Linda Schlitt says:
Dec 04, 2012

How wonderful in this time of short days and wintery weather to think about planting my own spiritual roots into soil that provides lasting nourishment. I loved how you summed up God’s purpose by saying that “God sent Jesus to earth to show human beings that they mattered.” Maybe that is the divine spark God put within each of us – the hungering to know that we each matter – the hungering for Immanuel – God with us — the emptiness that only God can fill.

I also loved the thought that hearing and retelling these wonderful stories of our people – God’s people on their journeys of faith “gives us the freedom to feel what we really feel, knowing we, too, can bring it all to God.” That it is a blessing to savor all the emotional details of people who encounter God and thereby reconnect with our emotions, too. Isn’t that a great new Advent tradition – to savor the moment – with the full range of senses and emotions – allowing God’s kingdom to break into our lives in new ways and old ways intermingled.

I never cease to be amazed the way God uses whatever is going on in my life to invite me to step back and think about fundamentals whether I am prepared to do so or not. This year via cancelled oratorio concert, smoke in the air too thick to be ignored, fire, high winds, evacuation of friends and neighbors, the possibility of evacuation and whether I was prepared to leave everything behind myself – to think about what is important and lasting to see and hear of the challenges of neighbors and to listen for the wind and watch for the signs and to trust God for His peace in the midst of it all. What an amazing and loving and patient and gracious God we serve. Thank you for helping me value Advent even more this year.

Bold Café says:
Dec 05, 2012

Thank you, Susan. We can create a printable format of the article for you to distribute. Blessings, Elizabeth McBride, editor

Bold Café says:
Dec 05, 2012

Great Norma! Feel free to share the link with others! Cafe, (boldcafe.org) is the on-line magazine for young adult women by Women of the ELCA, the national women’s organization of the ELCA. http://www.womenoftheelca.org

Also, you and others can subscribe to the Cafe e-mail list (at the bottom of every page) which notifies folks aemail when new issues are posted. People can also stay connected with Cafe via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/boldcafe) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/Boldcafe).

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