Observing the Christian Calendar: Advent

Christian CalendarOur personal stories take their fullest shape and deepest meaning only in relation to God and His purpose for us.  It is through understanding that we live inside His BIG story and choosing to inhabit that still-unfolding story that we are changed.  This is why we live the Christian year.

In living the Christian year we go beyond scattered celebrations and heartfelt but brief attention given to special high points in the year.  In essence by choosing to observe the Christian calendar, we sacralize time.

According to author, Bobby Gross, “To sacralize something, is to ‘imbue [it] with sacred character, especially through ritualized devotion.’”  God provides compelling examples of sacralized time for us in Scripture for example when He declares the Sabbath holy and ordains annual festivals for Israel.  He also gives us New Testament examples such as the early Christians, who in light of the resurrection, shifted worship to the first day of the week.

Last week we shared that the Christian year consists of more than a sequence of holy days such as Easter and Christmas.  It, in fact, contains whole seasons of spiritual meaning – a sequence of seven seasons built around the holy days corresponding to the major events in the life of Jesus.

The seven seasons are Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, The Paschal Triduum, Easter, and Ordinary Time.  Additionally, the seven seasons occur in three cycles:  The Cycle of Light, The Cycle of Life, and The Cycle of Love.

The Christian year begins with Advent which occurs four Sundays prior to Christmas Day.  The Cycle of Light is the celebration of the Incarnation – God with us.  The Cycle of Light consists of the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Advent is the season of waiting.  It is the beginning of the church year, begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming.”  Advent is the season of thoughtful reflection and repentance.  Observing Advent means to spend the weeks before Christmas rethinking our priorities, realigning our lives with God’s desires for us, and seeking forgiveness.  It also means beginning anew.   To observe Advent as it has traditionally been would go radically against our culture, but would serve to remind us that we are waiting for Christ.

Each of the four Sundays of Advent has a watchword for the day as well as a biblical figure with whom it is associated.

  • First Sunday – Wait –Isaiah – Isaiah 7:1

On the first Sunday of Advent we wait for Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth.  We also wait for the risen Christ to come again.  In Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope.

WAIT—I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  (Psalm 130:5-6)

  • Second Sunday – Prepare – John the Baptist – Luke 3:4

The second week of Advent we prepare.  Preparation involves paying attention and staying awake.  Advent reminds us to be on guard, to keep watch that we might be ready for Christ when he comes again.

PREPARE – And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way, to give God’s people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.  In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.  (Luke 1:76-79)

  • Third Sunday – Rejoice –Mary – Luke 1:46

While the other three weeks of Advent are symbolized by the color purple, this Sunday has a different color.  The color for the third week of Advent is pink, the color of joy – a reminder that this time of waiting and preparation is a joyful time.

REJOICE – My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  (Luke 1:46-49)

  • Fourth Sunday – Love –Joseph – John 3:16

The fourth Sunday of Advent is a time to see one another as the God-bearers (or image-bearers) we are.  We do this by supporting and loving one another.

LOVE – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.  (John 3:16)

As you begin to consider whether observing the Christian year is something you feel drawn toward this year, take a look at the list below.  These are a few suggestions of ways to celebrate the days and season of Advent.  Whether you choose to celebrate the Christian calendar one time or several, contemplate how you might make each year meaningful by selecting options that speak to your soul.  Directions and/or explanations can be found for many of these ideas by searching the internet.

First Sunday of Advent – Wait (Four Sundays before Christmas Day)

  • Make or purchase an Advent Wreath.
  • Light the first candle of the advent wreath on this evening. (Purple – repentance)
  • Say a short prayer when lighting the candle.
  • Read and meditate on Psalm 130:5-6 (NASB) –

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.

  • Follow a schedule of daily Advent Readings.
  • Incorporate a purchased or handmade Advent Calendar into your celebration.
  • For younger children, use the Countdown to Jesus’ Birthday Advent Calendar.
  • Make an Advent Paper Chain.
  • Participate in an Advent service project individually, as a family or with friends.
  • Decide on the recipient of a family gift. Provide “shepherd’s pouches” for each family member so each can “save” money to be given toward the gift.

Second Sunday of Advent – Prepare

  • Light an additional candle on this evening. (Purple- repentance)
  • Read and meditate this week on Luke 1:76-79 (NASB) –

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF
DEATH,To guide our feet into the way of peace.

 Third Sunday of Advent – Rejoice

  • Light an additional candle on the Advent wreath. (Pink-joy)
  • Read and mediate on Luke 1:46-49 (NASB)

And Mary said:
My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And Holy is His name.

  • Send an annual Christmas letter. (A way of reflecting on the past year.)  Joyfully notice the ways God has been present and faithful in your life and the way you have been able to be part of God’s work in your corner of the world.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Love

  • Light an additional candle on the Advent wreath. (Purple)
  • John 3:16 (NASB)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Other ways to Celebrate/Observe Advent:

  • Fast –from certain foods, saving your enjoyment of them for Christmas (optional: break the fast on Sundays)
  • Decorate for Advent (mantle, tables). Wait until December 24th to decorate for Christmas or decorate slowly throughout the month.
  • Inhabit Advent –

[1] give yourself permission to sing (Isaiah 65:17-25) and permission to groan (Romans 8:18-25)

[2] practice restraint (skip mailing Christmas cards and send Easter greetings instead; make a charitable donation in your loved ones’ name(s) rather than purchasing gifts; decline a holiday party or two; cut back on baking goods and/or eat fewer Christmas goodies), and practice retreat (rather than continually being on the “Go,” spend some time to be alone, quiet, and reflective; sit for a time at the feet of Jesus)

[3] assume an alert posture (ask God to heighten your awareness of His presence, to open your eyes to what He is doing—in us and in the world), and an open posture (Mary is a model here, “I am wholly yours, I am fully open to your Word.  I believe, let it be so with me.”)

Consciously step into the Story.  Begin to acquaint yourself with the season of Advent.  Learn what it is about and (using this list as a starting point) commence thinking through meaningful ways of inhabiting the season.

And… for those who are saying “YES, this is for me; this is for my family,” but, like me, are finding this all new or are simply feeling overwhelmed at the thought; don’t despair.  Within the next couple of weeks as we are making this journey together, a free PDF Christian Calendar Planning Form will be available for download.

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For further reading:

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God  by Bobby Gross (InterVarsityPress)

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (InterVarsityPress)

Celebrating the Christian Year: Building Family Traditions Around All the Major Christian Holidays by Martha Zimmerman (Bethany House Publishers)

Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? By Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder (Zondervan)