Today is the first day of the season of Advent, on our worship calendar. In fact, today is “New Year’s Day” on our worship calendar, the first day of the worship year, which makes sense when you consider that Jesus Christ is the center of our religion and worship, and that Christmas celebrates the beginning of his life, and that Advent is the time for us Christians to get ready for that beginning; this season becomes the logical starting point. So Happy New Year!
We enter this season, and this worship year, today with a series of four reflections on Advent, which I’ve put together from a variety of sources and my own reflection. At the end of each reading, we’ll ask you to please join in singing the listed verse of the classic Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Please remain seated for that singing. The hope is that this observance will aid us in the reason for this season: preparing for the coming of the Lord.
- We begin by considering the Season of Advent:
In the almost four weeks we have between now and Christmas 2019, it is suggested to this congregation and all Christian congregations that we observe “the season of Advent.” During Advent, we are to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, which is, lest we forget, what we celebrate at Christmas.
That preparation involves reflection, on who we are and how we lead our lives, and comparing that to who God wants us to be and how God wants us to lead our lives. We think about “Preparing the Way of the Lord” by repenting of and changing those parts of our lives that displease God. Notice that our Advent color is purple, the same as during Lent; reflection and repentance are part of the season.
And most of all, in these days of shopping and decorating and partying, we try to focus on Jesus Christ – God come to earth; our teacher and healer; our savior; our hope for eternal life; the head of the church. It is Jesus Christ who has brought us together, and who is central to our worship, and work, and fellowship. It is Jesus Christ whom we all have in common and who is “the peace between us.”
In the midst of all the distractions of our lives, and of this time of year, and even at those times we might disagree on the particulars of how to carry on his ministry, we always all have Jesus Christ as our guide, our example, our teacher, our leader. The Advent season reminds us of his central place, and reminds us to prepare ourselves for his coming.
Let us sing verse 1 of Hymn 154.
- The Advent Wreath:
Our Presbyterian worship book explains the significance of the Advent wreath. You may want to look at our wreath as we describe it. “The lighting of a wreath in churches and homes during this season is a common feature of Advent. The Advent wreath is a wreath with four candles in the wreath itself, and often with another candle in the center. A candle is lighted the first week in Advent, and an additional one each week thereafter, culminating in the lighting of the center one on Christmas. Ordinarily, the wreath candles are purple, the color traditional to the season, and the center candle white. In some traditions, the candle that is lighted on the Third Sunday is rose-colored.
“The origin of the Advent wreath is obscure. It apparently began in the Lutheran tradition, but it has been appropriated by almost all other Christian traditions. A review of the origin of the wreath makes it clear that its primary focus is not to have each candle represent any single event, or person, or doctrine. What the candles do signify and communicate, above all, is the increasing crescendo of light throughout the season. The dominant symbol is the increasing light: as Advent draws nearer to Christmas, the congregation experiences the increasing brightness radiated by the wreath.” Because . . . the light of the world is approaching, as you heard it described in the Gospel of John.
Let’s sing verse 2 of our hymn.
- The Hope of Advent:
From an Advent devotional booklet: What kind of future are we anticipating? What will be the net effect of all the violence, destruction of human life, drug addiction, injustices, and ecological damage that are being perpetrated today? Is it even realistic to expect a future for ourselves and our children? Can the world really be changed? As we approach the year 2020 confronted by these discouraging questions, the season of Advent signals a hope, that is firmly grounded in the record of God’s activity in history. There is reason to live in the expectation of change and transformation, this season says – because God has already given birth to a new humanity. That is the meaning of the Christ event that we celebrate at Christmas: the beginning of a new humanity, pioneered by Jesus and empowered by God, to eradicate evil, and to establish God’s rule on earth.
In Advent our posture is similar to that of ancient Israel, including the time of Isaiah. We wait in expectation. But unlike Israel of old, we don’t wait for the beginning of God’s rule. That has already happened; Jesus began it. We wait in expectation for that rule to spread and cover the earth and include every human being. And at the same time, we work as God’s agents to embody it in our own lives, and to help it expand throughout the world.
Advent is a time of hopeful waiting for God’s complete victory – hopeful in the quiet confidence that the most decisive battle has already been won: Death has been conquered, by Jesus. The beginning of God’s rule has been established. The powers of darkness will not prevail. Christmas is the guarantee, that God is acting, and God’s rule has begun. Advent . . . is a season of hope.
Please join me in verse 3 of our hymn.
- The Peace of Advent
Another Advent devotion: The Advent season is not only a preparation for the Christmas holiday, but also a time to expect the Christ, the Prince of Peace, who comes anew into our own lives and into the world.
Though we are all in sin and separated from God, through Jesus Christ who has come and continues to come, God has granted us the gift of grace. And we experience God’s grace . . . as peace. God’s peace restores; sustains; and heals.
In response to this good news, we go into the world to point to and become a part of God’s peacegiving. We become peacemakers. As Christians, we are called to peacemaking whenever we encounter brokenness, injustice, or conflict – whether it be in our own lives; in our families, congregations, and communities; or in the international arena.
The Scriptures describe God’s gift of peace, and our response as peacemakers. God’s peace is a rich concept, encompassing wholeness, harmony, and justice. It comes with the kingdom of God. The Prince of Peace has come to establish peace – peace within ourselves, peace between us and God, peace with our sisters and brothers everywhere. Advent reminds us . . . of peace.
Let’s sing verse 4 of our hymn.
And let us pray: God, may this season be for us a time of reflection and self-examination and correction, as we prepare to celebrate your coming again. May it be a time for us to draw nearer to the Light of the World, as that light draws nearer to us at Christmas. May we experience it as a time of hope, a time of confidence that your rule has begun with Jesus’ coming, and now only needs to spread. And may we know it as a time of peace – a time to rejoice in our peace with you, a time to reach out in peace to others. Amen.