While we are still finishing the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, we entered the season of Advent this past Sunday. Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ, which we celebrate at Christmas.
Since no one knows for sure what time of the year Christ was born, the day for the Christmas celebration was variable in the early years of the church. The Roman Emperor set the date of December 25 in the year 529. That was the date of a Roman pagan festival celebrating the return of light and longer days after the winter solstice. The idea probably was that the celebration of the birth of Christ would supplant the pagan celebration. Symbolically it is a good time. The growing darkness of the days has passed its nadir on December 21, and the daily light of the sun is visibly beginning to return to the earth. So December 25 is an appropriate time to celebrate the coming of Jesus who is the light of the world.
Then, in the year 567 the Council of Tours established the season of Advent as a time of fasting and prayer in preparation for Christmas Day. The Council also proclaimed the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred season. In the early years, that season - - the twelve days of Christmas - - was a time of fasting and prayer for those who planned to become a part of the Christian church when they were baptized on the day of Epiphany, January 6.
Today we think of Advent as the beginning of the church year, a time of prayer and spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ on Christmas and also a time to reflect on the second coming of Christ when Jesus will return in glory at the end of time.
In our time, it seems that the whole Western world celebrates Christmas, but only the Christians celebrate Christ. Everyone, it seems, is drawn into the swirl of shopping and civic tree lighting celebrations and the accumulation of catalogs that stuff our mailboxes, tempting us to spend more than we intended. All of these activities are full of fun and fellowship, but often have little to do with the coming of Christ.
So we have to be rather vigilant to maintain Advent as a time of prayer and meditation; a time when we tune our hearts to Christ. In the midst of all the shopping, baking, wrapping and parties, Christ will be with us. When we keep our hearts and minds focused on who it is that the celebration is about, then, behind the busyness we can still hear the Good News of Great Joy announced by the angels to the shepherds, "For to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)
Dr. Martin Marty, in one of his recent meditations on Advent says: "In the Advent season there is always a lot of movement, a lot of 'hustle and bustle', with people traveling to see loved ones, shoppers going out to the stores, revelers heading for the latest holiday party, concert or event. But one movement needs to be remembered above all others: our movement toward the manger, where the Christ child is born, he is the reason we are celebrating after all. And he is the only one who can move us out of darkness and sin and into the bright light of God's glory, forgiveness and salvation. When the Shepherds moved toward the manger, they ran, and we can too, spiritually speaking: ... as we read and reflect and ponder upon the Word encircled in straw for our eternal benefit."
My prayer for each of you this Advent season is that you will find a quiet place in your heart where you may constantly rejoice in the great gift that God has given to us in that little child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger who would give his life on the cross to become our savior.
Pastor Nancy Becker