The radio started playing Christmas music on November 1st. The coffee shops switched to holiday themed paper cups on Halloween. The twinkling lights are going up; commercials for holiday sales are everywhere we look. If you set your calendar by all of that, you’d think it was Christmas Eve already!
So I’d like to ask you: do you know the difference between Advent and Christmas?
For most of my childhood, I didn’t really think about it. Advent was the pre-Christmas season. We lit candles and sang about how excited we were about Christmas and Jesus coming. And then– Christmas Eve, Christmas, and right afterwards we started cleaning up and taking everything down. Christmas was the finale, the last movement of a month-long symphony of twinkling lights, cookies, hot chocolate, and beloved carols.
The problem with this attitude, of course, is that it turns the season of Advent into a footnote of Christmas Day. And yet, how many people really look forward to Advent? Does anyone you know plan Advent parties, go Advent caroling, invite the family over for a big Advent feast? In many congregations, we even start singing Christmas carols during the liturgical Advent season. Christmas has stolen the show in December; and one of the most vital seasons in the life of the church has become one of the least recognized. The most compelling evidence is that most non-Christians have a better understanding of the customs of Lent and some parts of Holy Week than they do of Advent.
Why is this a big deal? you might ask. Isn’t Christmas the important part anyway? Yes, I won’t pretend that Christmas isn’t important. It’s the celebration of the coming of Jesus to earth. And culturally, it has become a time that symbolizes peace on earth, kindness and good will towards others, and giving of our time and money to the less fortunate. All of these are admirable aftereffects of the holiday, and yet all of these consistently overshadow the equally important Advent season.
Advent is the beginning of the Christian year, and it is a period of preparation for:
- The celebration of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem;
- The coming of Christ in our lives through His grace and through the Sacrament of Holy Communion;
- His Second Coming at the end of time.
If we spend all of our time preparing for the first one, we miss two very critical preparations in our Christian faith. It would be as if we spent the entire Lent season thinking about Easter, instead of in penitential preparation. We’d miss both the point of Lent and the miracle of Easter.
So this Advent season, while you’re running around getting everything ready for the celebration of Christmas, take some time to think about the other preparations you need to be making: preparing ourselves to more clearly see His grace in our lives, to more readily appreciate his gift to us through Holy Communion, and to be ready for Him to come again. Baby Jesus is important, but so is His grace and His redemption, and His second coming. Let’s work as a church family to help each other spend this Advent season in an attitude of peaceful, joyful preparation for all of the ways He has promised He will come into our lives and into our hearts.