Advent and Why We Celebrate It
What is Advent?
Advent means “coming” and is the name the Church has given to the season anticipating the coming of Christ as if before His incarnation, but also His coming in consummation—the completion of what He began in His first coming. Advent is a time of tension. The church lives in that tension every day of the year.
During Advent we light candles. The idea is not merely light, but light in the midst of darkness. Coming implies waiting. There was waiting and weeping for the first coming of Christ. There is waiting and weeping for the second. During Advent, we focus on that waiting, the longing, the hope for love, joy, and peace found in the justice of Christ and His Kingdom, already and not yet.
During Advent, we focus on that waiting, the longing, the hope for love, joy, and peace found in the justice of Christ and His Kingdom, already and not yet.
Why do we celebrate Advent?
Why did we, Gulf Coast Community Church, start celebrating Advent a few years ago? For those who come from more traditional church backgrounds, this isn’t really a question. They may have wondered why we weren’t before. However, for those from less traditional backgrounds, this is a fair question. Why did the leaders decide to move in this direction?
To be clear, there is no Scripture that commands us to celebrate Advent. There may be years that we decide that something rises to the level that we don’t. But there are good reasons to make celebrating it our default position.
Advent Connects Us to Our Larger History
Every church or denomination has their strengths and weaknesses. One of the weaknesses of non-denominational evangelical churches (that’s us) is the tendency to act as if Christianity, or at least its most important iteration, began with us, our church. One symptom of this is the anniversary of the church (in our case, 28 years ago) being a bigger celebration than Pentecost—the anniversary of the Church.
Celebrating Advent reminds us that we don’t control the calendar of the church… any more than we decide whether January is going to happen this year. It minimizes us just a little.
Celebrating Advent reminds us that we don’t control the calendar of the church… any more than we decide whether January is going to happen this year.
Advent Forms the Story of God in Us
Second, it forms in us (and our children) something of the story of God by how we walk through the year. In 22 years of pastoring here, watching children grow up and become adults, I’ve observed a few things. In children’s ministry and on Sunday mornings, we’ve taught both children and adults a lot about the faith; but allowing the seasons of the year to be incorporated into the story of our faith constructs it into our imaginations, into our “gut feelings.” Without it, we replace that way of viewing time with the sports seasons or some other way of thinking about time. It helps us redeem time.
Historically, the church understood the importance of teaching by how it worships. The church calendar was constructed with that in mind. To understand what celebrating Advent does, we might consider what the absence of such celebration does. Christmas without Advent reinforces the secular, meaninglessness of Christmas. If there is no waiting, no longing, no acknowledgment of the darkness, then the coming of God in human flesh to rule and reign is meaningless.
By celebrating Advent, we spend time contemplating human need for God’s coming. Saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” might not be quite right. Jesus is the answer to the season, but the reason is the groaning, the darkness, the brokenness of the world, without which the Incarnation would have been unnecessary.
Allowing the seasons of the year to be incorporated into the story of our faith constructs it into our imaginations, into our “gut feelings.”
Advent Helps Us Reflect on Brokenness and Suffering
Celebrating Advent builds in a season to consider human suffering and the need for hope, peace, and joy. It’s a fair critique, if not entirely accurate, that the theology of the church in the West has become triumphalistic to the point that we’ve lost the place for brokenness and suffering in the church. We’ve highlighted God’s demands in our theology and neglected his condescension, mercy, and compassion. To whatever degree this is true, it affects the Christian personality in dangerous ways. Advent builds into our yearly cycle a time to stop and reflect on the brokenness and suffering that all humanity experiences.
Christ is the hope of the world; He is the Prince of Peace; He is love eternal; He is the source of all joy. Advent reminds us why each one of these is essential; why Jesus’s birth is worthy of celebrating.