This coming Sunday, December 2, is the beginning of a new liturgical year and marks the first Sunday of Advent. I won’t go into the history of Advent (you can read about it on Wikipedia), but it consists of the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day and is a time to prepare for the coming of the Savior. Some common traditions during the season of Advent would be the Advent wreath and Advent calendar. The wreath is horizontally-lying, with a single candle surrounded by four additional candles. Each candle is lit on a Sunday during that Sunday’s lectionary reading, with the final, center candle being lit on Christmas Eve.
The Advent calendar is a calendar, frequently given to children, which counts down the days from the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas Day. Each day has a window or some other mechanism which opens, revealing some small goody, typically a small chocolate.
The purpose of Advent is to be a time of preparation for the advent (derived from the Latin adventus, which means “to arrive”) of our Lord and Savior. Most people assume the advent referred to is the birth of Jesus Christ, which is celebrated with Christmas Day immediately following Advent; however, the lectionary (I’m using Lectionary C in the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer) indicates that Advent is a time for us to prepare for the future coming of our Savior, because, for us, he has already arrived a first time. We are much like the 1st century Jews, anticipating the coming of the Messiah, though for us it would be his Second Coming. As a result, Advent has a bit of a penitential vibe – not as deep as Lent, but definitely a time of preparation and repentance.
For example, here is the Old Testament reading for the first Sunday of Advent:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”Jeremiah 33:14-16 NRSV
Here is the New Testament reading:
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 NRSV
And here is the Gospel reading:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”Luke 21:25-36 NRSV
As you can see, these readings have a “second coming” feel to them (the Gospel reading for the personal lectionary is the Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13). They are about living in preparation for the kingdom of God.
Now, I’m not really one who gets into the “signs of the times” or Second Coming themes. I know there is a cottage industry of those guessing at what the signs mean and interpreting them for our modern day. That doesn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to live in a way that is pleasing to God, but guessing at signs seems futile. Besides, the coming of Jesus for me could be anytime now – because I could die at any point. Our obligation as Christians is to break the kingdom into this world right now. It’s in the Lord’s Prayer.
I tend to view Advent as a time for me to take stock of how I treat others and whether I am adequately serving Christ in other people.
Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35).Rule of St. Benedict 53:1
So, let us take this time of Advent to prepare for the coming of our Lord as we see Him revealed in those around us. Christ arrives in each of our lives multiple times per day, so this is a great time of year to reflect upon how we can improve at treating others with more kindness and respect.
Lastly, I’ll close with a listing of the Sunday lectionary for the weeks of Advent. I hope you take some time each Sunday during Advent to sit quietly with them.
First Sunday in Advent
- Jeremiah 33:14-16
- Psalm 25:1-9
- 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
- Luke 21:25-36
Second Sunday in Advent
- Malachi 3:1-4
- Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)
- Philippians 1:3-11
- Luke 3:1-6
Third Sunday in Advent
- Zephaniah 3:14-20
- The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
- Philippians 4:4-7
- Luke 3:7-18
Fourth Sunday in Advent
- Micah 5:2-5a
- The Song of Mary (Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55)
- Psalm 80:1-7
- Hebrews 10:5-10
- Luke 1:39-45,(46-55)