For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 NIV
Well, it’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving is over. But it’s not Christmas time yet. Christmas doesn’t start until December 25th. That’s why we have Christmas Eve on December 24th, a day before, it’s the eve of Christmas. And all of December, at least the four weeks prior to Christmas, is called Advent.
Historically speaking, to give this a little bit more context, the church has observed what is known as the liturgical calendar. The purpose of the liturgical calendar is to tell the gospel story over the span of a whole year. I think this is a very useful tool. I actually used to be a worship leader at a church that was known for being more liturgical and observing these types of things. I think a lot of our modern, evangelical churches are actually missing out, not observing some of these really great elements of the liturgical calendar. But everybody at least has the baseline of observing the liturgical calendar when it comes to Christmas and Easter. Often, the most neglected seasons of the church calendar are Advent and Lent, and I bet you are familiar with those terms, but unfortunately, especially in the contemporary evangelical world, we just don’t give these seasons much thought or attention. So let’s talk about the season of Advent.
In short, the season of Advent is supposed to be a season of hope, anticipation and even repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ. So, you probably heard of the Psalms, Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel, or, Come Thou Long, Expected Jesus. Those are probably the most popular Advent songs. They’re not Christmas songs, they’re Advent songs. And what those songs do is they help us remember that even though Christ has come, right? Christ’s birth already happened 2,000 years ago, his kingdom has not yet fully been established. So we’re looking forward to the second coming of Christ. So, in the season of Advent, not only are we looking forward, but kind of looking backward toward the birth of Christ, but we’re also looking forward to the second coming of Christ.
Christ’s kingdom has not fully manifested itself here on Earth. We’re still broken, imperfect people, we’re all sinners, we still have a lot of wars going on, we still have a lot of natural disasters happening, the world is full of pain and suffering and evil and darkness. And the season of Advent is the time to acknowledge this reality. But, it’s also a season of time to acknowledge that we have hope! We have hope in the coming of Christ, the light of the world is coming. That’s why we have the Advent wreath. We light one of those purple candles each week, and the wreath gets brighter and brighter and then, finally, we light the Christ candle that’s at the center of the wreath and it symbolizes that the light of the world has come.
A deliberate attention must be built into our practice of the Advent season. Christ has come, and yet not all things have reached completion. While we remember Israel’s waiting and hoping and we give thanks for Christ’s birth, we also anticipate his second coming at the end of time. For this reason, Advent began as a penitential season. A time for discipline and intentional repentance in the confident expectation and hope of Christ coming again. So, as we long for Christ’s coming, we also want to long for our lives to be changed and our hearts to be transformed. When you’re in a season of preparation, something big is about to happen, you want to make sure that things are ready, our hearts are ready. That is the essence of the Advent season.