The Church Season of Advent
Happy New Church Year!
We live in a time when we follow an annual calendar based on the orbit of the planet Earth around the sun. New Year’s day on that calendar is January 1st. The Christian church also follows a calendar, but based on the orbit of the Christian life around the Son of God. The first big event in that calendar is the birth of Jesus into the manger of Bethlehem. To give a little time to focus on preparing ourselves for that birth, the Christian church year begins this Sunday, December 2nd.
Advent, however, is not simply an extension of the Christmas season. Secular society celebrates Christmas earlier and earlier each year and ignores Advent entirely, which makes it difficult for Christians to focus on Advent. Technically, the liturgical Christmas season begins on Christmas Day (the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” refers to Dec 25th–Jan 5th, not twelve days before Christmas). To avoid an Advent-Christmas mix-up, we begin to sing Christmas carols and hymns only on Christmas Day and afterwards.
The word ‘advent’ is a Latin word meaning ‘coming.’ During this time we look forward (1) to our Lord’s coming as a human baby at Bethlehem and also (2) to his final coming as king at the end of time. We also remember (3) his continual coming to his people in his Word and Sacraments. Therefore we speak of Christ’s “three-fold coming” during the season of Advent.
Advent is a time of waiting, preparing, and hoping. This involves both joyful anticipation and repentance. Although the emphasis on confession has largely been lost in recent times, Advent is a penitential season of the church. Since Jesus is surely coming again in judgment, we desperately need for him to come to us first in grace.