For hundreds of years, Christianity was organized by a calendar of fasts and feasts and their corresponding texts, called the Liturgical Calendar. Luther’s reforms trimmed some fat off Christianity. Americans, with a limited sense of our place in history, have often separated themselves from liturgical traditions to distance themselves from religion, and seek a purer relationship with Christ.
However, in recent years, many evangelical Christians have found that adopting traditions from ancient streams of Christianity helps them order their lives in a way that brings them closer to God. I first learned of Advent a few years back from Kester, and have found that commemorating it helps me realize the importance of Jesus in my own life.
Some records may indicate that by the second century A.D., the great missional church in Antioch may have celebrated the Feast of the Nativity on December 25. Constantine made Christmas official and the council of Tours noted Advent in 567 A.D.
Advent is the beginning of the Liturgical Calendar, which leads Christians through the story of Christ and his Church. The four weeks prior to Christmas are spent imagining what it must have felt like to be a Jew, waiting for Messiah to come. The lectionary contains readings from the Psalms, prophets, gospels and Revelation. By identifying with what it felt like to wait on the first coming of Christ, we deepen our desire for his return.
Advent traditions you may be familiar with include candles, wreathes, colors and calendars. You begin greening up the place, placing wreathes and other greeneries in the church to symbolize new life (beautifully ironic in the dead of winter,) and draping the cross in blue. The Advent wreath includes five candles, often four in blue and one in white. The first candle is lit on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is spent focusing on Hope. Subsequent Sundays might be spent on other gospel stories like John the Baptist of the angel appearing to Mary. Some families use a calendar that has a reading for every day of the month and a piece of chocolate.
The beauty in Advent is that it is a very visceral reminder of the importance of waiting. As calendar teaches children the value of delayed gratification it reminds me that God is not finished, with me or this world. There is much in store; in the mean time we must learn to wait, and wait well.