“Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”
Sunday was the first day of Advent. Out of the darkness comes a light. Advent is about the story of the universe: The God of the farthest reaches of all the heavens and of the speck of dirt that is our planet revealed himself to us first through prophecy and then through his son.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:1-3).
I sometimes worry that our celebration of Christmas is too pagan in both its roots and current expressions by our society, but as I was driving home from church last night, I felt awe at the most universally relevant story being celebrated. If the rest of the world dances around the joyous fringes, and store owners and corporations profit from gift giving, and singers profit from Christmas songs, I appreciate their contribution to the celebration, even if some of them miss the beating core of Advent and Christmas. Not that I fully understand the true meaning of Advent and Christmas, but it is as if we hear a distant song, even if we can barely make out the tune nor make out the words. The season of Advent helps us to understand the music more clearly.
Advent, which comes from Latin, means coming. Advent is both about the past coming of Jesus and Jesus’ future coming. Although I celebrated Advent as a child with my family, we did adapted versions of it roughly based on traditional liturgy, so I have been searching for the “real” way to do Advent. It turns out that there is some variation within Advent’s theme of Christ’s coming. I grew up with the first Sunday having the Prophecy Candle, then the second Sunday having the Bethlehem Candle, the third Sunday having the Shepherd’s Candle, and the fourth Sunday having the Angel’s Candle. The fifth candle is the Christ Candle. This is a beneficial reflection on the story of the gospels; however, other Advent traditions tell the story from the beginning, culminating in Jesus, the Christ Candle.
After the world was created out of the darkness, humanity fell into sin and became separated from communion with God and became instead entrenched in death. To release us from the power of death and to reveal himself to us, God, in his foreknowledge, designed from the very beginning that he would give us life and reveal himself to us through Jesus, the living Word of God. God began hinting at the coming one who would bless all people when he called Abraham out to be a nation. The hope of Abraham for a son was intended to be the hope of all the nations. I am not a fan of patriarchy, but I see it as either God revealing himself through the scaffolds of the sinful, male-dominated society, crippled by sin (Gen. 3), and/or as part of the yin-yang, alpha-omega themes of the universe, wherein everyone has a turn. Jesus is glorified as both the beginning and the end. If men are the alpha, it does not detract from the glory of women if they are the omega. God chose a man, Abraham, for the beginning of the story, but he chose a woman, Mary, for the end. And Mary does have a candle:
1st Sunday – Patriarch Candle, The Candle of Hope
2nd Sunday – Prophet Candle, The Candle of Peace
3rd Sunday – John the Baptist Candle, The Candle of Love
4th Sunday – Mary the Mother of Jesus Candle, The Candle of Joy
Christmas Day – Christ Candle, The Birth of Christ
In this coming Advent season, the scriptures I listed above are read at the lighting of the candle. (These are the readings for Lectionary C of the Revised Common Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer.)
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. It is a time of repentance and even fasting, but unlike Lent, which mourns the suffering of Jesus, Advent is a joyful waiting. We celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, and we wait in expectation for Jesus to return again as the King.
First Sunday of Advent Collect:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.