Last Sunday I participated in lighting the first Advent candle in church. When I was a child, what I knew about Advent could be encapsulated in the song Mrs. Hammondtree taught all the kids in Sunday school to sing – 4 More Weeks ‘Til He Arrives.
It was a simple song, and meant to be sung with an echo. Near the beginning of the service each Sunday in Advent, the pastor called all the kids to the front of the huge sanctuary (at least it seemed huge at the time). The kids sang the words, and the rest of the church echoed them.
4 more weeks ’til he arrives.
He who filled and changed our lives.
Let the bells ring loud and clear,
Let the children shout and cheer.
Let all kinds of drums be heard,
Let all people get the word.
Let’s clap our hands and slap our thighs, raise our voices to the skies,
Sing and play our songs and drums, ’til that special baby comes.
4 more weeks til he arrives,
You can’t hear the tune or the echo in my head, but I promise you, it’s catchy. So catchy that I haven’t forgotten a word some thirty years later.
What is advent? Why do (some) churches celebrate it? It turns out, Advent is the first season in the traditional church calendar. I think it’s cool that looking forward to the arrival of Christ is the first church season, and it kicks off the year in December instead of January. I’d rather start my year in December, with all the festivities and joy of Christmas, instead of the winter blues January can bring.
Advent comes from the Latin word ‘advenire’ meaning ‘to come, coming.’ As my children’s song proclaimed, it’s about an arrival. Advent is the celebration of the long awaited birth of Christ, but it’s also the anticipation of the return of Christ. It’s a season of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Many churches light candles representing these aspects of Christ each Sunday in Advent, leading up to the lighting of the Christ candle.
Advent calendars have also become a common Christmas decoration. I remember looking forward to the day it was my turn to open the calendar when I was young. Since I was one of four children, that day didn’t come around too often in December! Advent calendars were traditionally used to mark the number of days before Christmas, and the celebration of the coming of Christ. You can find advent calendars with all sorts of decorations, from Santa, to snowmen, to Star Wars. Admittedly, many of the calendars have gotten away from their original intent to tell the story of Advent, but you can still find traditional advent calendars that tell the Christmas story, or you can make your own.
Advent Readings are another way to remember what the celebration of Christmas is all about. You can easily download a variety of different readings online, or if you prefer a book format, there are a number of advent books available as well. I’m trying out Advent readings this year and hoping it keeps me centered on what’s important in a holiday season that can feel busy and overly-commercialized.
This week we lit the candle of Hope. I’m feeling more hopeful this year as I look forward to another Christmas season, another celebration of the arrival of Christ and the anticipation that one day, Christ will come again.
How are you celebrating the season?