Rev. Mark Buetow
Advent is the season in the church year in which we wait in eager anticipating for the coming of our Lord Jesus. It has a double meaning since we are waiting and looking forward to celebrating His birth at Christmas but also to His coming again in glory on the Last Day. Early on, Advent developed as a season of fasting and preparation, much like Lent. That changed somewhat when churches nudged Advent into a less penitential purple and more “joyously expectant” blue season. (And people still like to debate whether blue is a proper option to use). Did you know that some people wouldn’t sing Christmas music or put up Christmas trees during Advent? After all, there are twelve days of Christmas, and they don’t start until Christmas!
But look around. The world knows nothing of Advent. For the world, the “Holiday Season” begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day. It’s full of feasts and lights and parties and lots of football and Christmas songs made famous by the Baby Boomer generation. And let’s face it, the church can’t really compete. Many churches already have their Christmas trees and lights up. Perhaps your pastor is a stickler for the old traditions and your sanctuary isn’t decorated yet. But even so, while we are waiting in eager expectation, the world is celebrating and it’s hard not to get caught up in all that. So many Christians will use Advent as the time to complain that there isn’t much Advent any more. Many others will just plough ahead with all the festivities and goings on that come with the season. Some people revel in the lights and tinsel. Others hurt in silent pain and loneliness.
So where did Advent go? Well, it didn’t go anywhere. It’s still here. Because Advent isn’t about decorating trees or not. And it’s not about baking cookies or waiting. It’s not about any of that. Advent is about Jesus. And so Advent is right where it should be: in the church, with the blue or the purple indicating it’s a special season and the readings from God’s Word telling us that Jesus is coming. Advent is Advent because we hear of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey, of Christ’s coming in glory, of the preaching of John the Baptist and the announcement of Gabriel to Mary. The clouds of glory, the donkey and palms, the prophet in the Jordan river, the angel Gabriel: they’re all doing the same thing: pointing you to Jesus.
Maybe because there is so much hustle and bustle churches often decide to have additional worship services during Advent. Maybe there is the opportunity to receive Christ’s body and blood or join in the singing of Evening Prayer. Take advantage of those opportunities because they are the times in which we can tune out the world, even for just a little bit, and hear the Good News that Jesus is coming. He has already come, in the flesh, born in a manger, foretold by prophet. He will come again in glory, on the clouds of heaven, like lightning, with trumpets and angels and waking the dead. And between those two “advents” He is coming now, to you, right there in His church. When your pastor preaches that this Jesus came for you. To save you. To go to the cross for you. To die and rise for you. To deliver forgiveness to you. He comes upon the altar with His body and blood. We sing “Hosanna!” as the crowds did, welcoming Him.
So where did Advent go? Nowhere. It’s right where it’s always been, in the church, where the Spirit gathers Christ’s people to hear the Word which brings repentance and faith. In the church where the Word of God is heard, sinners are drawn out of the world which parties for no purpose and into the faith and joy and comfort and hope that Jesus brings by His saving gifts. And then, filled with that joy and peace, we go forth to enjoy the things of this world and life, parties and cookies and Christmas carols if you like, as the baptized children of God. And as we live we wait, we expect, and we rejoice that Jesus comes to us. Happy Advent!