Happy New Year! One month early
By Scott Baker
In this past week where everyone was distracted by Thanksgiving details, many Christians across the globe were preparing for a different holiday. Although here in America we were concerning ourselves with how navigate the observance of our national holiday of Thanksgiving in the midst of a pandemic, many across the globe had their minds on other things. On Sunday, Nov. 29, we celebrated New Year’s Day for those Christians who follow a liturgical calendar. We began the holy season of Advent. The word Advent simply means “arrival or coming.” Advent comprises the four weeks leading to the great feast of The Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a.k.a. Christmas.
The season of Advent is ancient. At one point in the history of Christianity it was almost a mirror image of the season of Lent (The 40 days leading up to Easter). As far back as the sixth century the season of Advent was observed, albeit much longer. It was often referred to as St. Martin’s Lent, or St. Martin’s fast. Saint Martin of Tours feast day was/is on Nov. 11. If you count on the calendar from his feast up to Christmas day you get approximately 40 days; the same length of time as its counterpart of Lent.
Unlike Lent, Advent is marked not necessarily by penitence, abstinence, and contrition (although those are in season no matter what time of the year) but, rather, about preparation and anticipation. As Christians celebrate with joy the first Advent of Jesus Christ, they look with eager anticipation to the promised second Advent of Jesus. Prominent throughout Christian scriptures is the promise of the return of Christ to consummate the Kingdom of God and the completion of all things. Many refer to this as the rapture or the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is that very promise Christians prepare for even in the midst of the celebration of the first coming of Christ.
As with the secular New Year’s Day, the liturgical counterpart is marked by self-examination and a commitment to do things differently in preparation for, not just the coming year, but especially for the second coming. Many in our culture spend no small amount of time trying to determine what their New Year’s resolution/s will be. It is annual moment to start over and do things differently. Preparation for the sacred season of Advent is no different. Perhaps one might make a resolution to pray more; serve the poor; read the bible more; get involved in the community. Regardless of what the resolution may be, the season of Advent becomes an occasion to live life differently.
Advent occurs at a time of the year when the world around us is slowly engulfed in darkness as the days shorten and the light wanes. In the midst of this natural cycle, Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus who declared that he was “the light of the world.” In fact, in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the light of world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) As the daylight fades and reaches its climax at the winter solstice, Christians celebrate the coming of the light of the world.
The prayer appointed for the first Sunday of Advent in the Book of Common Prayer captures much of what the season is all about, “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.”
It never fails, the day after Thanksgiving, we all wonder why we ate so much and how we’re going to shed all those calories. Perhaps the New Year’s resolutions don’t have to wait until January first. Maybe, this year we can get a jump on the resolutions a month early and enter into the season of Advent in a whole new way. Not only committed to reshaping our outward appearance, but, reshaping our inner one as well.
THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.