Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why I Love Advent

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth....For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14, 17 ESV)

1. The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.
2. a. The liturgical period preceding Christmas, beginning in Western churches on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and in Eastern churches in mid-November, and observed by many Christians as a season of prayer, fasting, and penitence. b. Christianity The coming of Jesus at the Incarnation. c. Christianity See Second Coming.

Christmas Day is 28 days, 6 hours, and 56 minutes away as I write this.

In the United States, that frequently means 28 days of harried shoppers and store clerks, people going to ridiculous extremes to be the one to grab ridiculous bargains. In a word - commercialism.

A few years ago, our family grew tired of the growing commercialism. My husband and I wanted to set a different tone for our family. We had been reading a series of books by Jan Karon called The Mitford Years and learned through Episcopal priest Father Tim about a season on the liturgical calendar called Advent.

I grew up in a solidly Baptist home and had never heard of Advent. I was intrigued but a little skeptical. The more we researched, though, the more we realized the potential Advent held for our family.

Like any tradition, Advent can become just another date on the calendar. It can be reduced to chocolate calendars and pop-up toys. But at its heart lies a focus - an emphasis on the full meaning of the birth of Jesus. We made the decision to embrace this intention at the heart of Advent.

This year we celebrate our 10th Advent season. I've come to love Advent ... to anticipate it and crave the simplicity and focus that it brings to a season that can be filled with too much food, too many events, and an unnecessary amount of stress and tension. For me, Advent reflects the hope, joy, peace, and love that filled the manger that first Christmas morning.

Our culture has secularized Christmas in many ways. Advent reminds me that the "spirit of Christmas" isn't ours to redefine. Indeed, Christmas isn't about a feeling at all ... it's about a person. It's about the One who was born to die that I might live forever. Advent helps me keep my eyes on Him.

Advent doesn't require or expect a total rejection of what is called "the Christmas season". We still decorate, bake, host and attend special events, and shop for gifts for loved ones within a reasonable budget. What Advent brings is a simplicity and purpose to those activities. In fact, I've enjoyed Christmas more this side of adding the Advent tradition than I did before, when the focus was on how long I had to get things done until Christmas Day. Then I rushed through, hardly noticing the beauty around me. Now, I reflect on the depth of meaning behind every tradition, even when obscured by our culture. Truly, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. " (John 1:5)

If you are wanting to start your own Advent tradition, I encourage you to jump in starting tomorrow. I'll post our daily verses and weekly readings. I encourage you to make an Advent wreath, lighting one candle each Sunday with a focus on a different aspect of Jesus' first Advent each week (learn about making an Advent wreath here). As you walk through the Advent season, reflect on the "why" of Christmas traditions. Look intentionally for the light shining into the darkness. And ask God to help you be a light to guide others to understand the true meaning of the hallowed manger.

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