With the early November snowfall, it might seem that winter came early. We simply skipped from summer to winter. Now it’s December, when winter is due to arrive (though not until the third week of December). With December’s dawning comes first Advent and then Christmas. While Advent begins a new church year, and with it a new cycle of experiences of the presence of God in our lives, the culmination of the season is Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the one who incarnates the presence of God in the world. The four weeks of Advent require of us patience, for all around us the trappings of the Christmas season are with us. They seem to arrive in the stores earlier every year. Whilst this is true, it need not prevent us from attending to the opportunities afforded to us by Advent to prepare ourselves for the visit of angels and shepherds and magi to bear witness to the revelation of God’s love for humanity in a child born in Bethlehem.
As we have done these past few years, we will begin the Advent season with the choir leading us in worship. So, on December 2 we’ll gather to share in the telling of the Christmas story through readings and carols. While the Christmas story will be at the center of the service, we will begin worship and the season by singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This ancient hymn that goes back to the twelfth century has a haunting melody written in the fifteenth century, that invites to consider the gravity of the season. The same is true of Charles Wesley’s “Come, O Long-expected Jesus, born to set your people free. From our fears and sins release us; Christ, in whom our rest shall be. You, our strength and consolation, come salvation to impart; dear desire of many a nation, joy of many a longing heart.” Yes, come, long expected Jesus to set us free.
Like Lent, Advent traditionally has a penitential component. That is, it invites us to look inward and discern where we fall short of God’s desire for our lives. The season offers us the possibility of attending to the things that hinder our ability to welcome the Christ child into our lives. Although is much shorter than pregnancy, there are some parallels. Both Advent and pregnancy provide time to make room for the new addition. So, let us take time over the next four Sundays, as we journey toward Christmas, as we light the four candles of Advent, to contemplate messages of hope, peace, joy, and love. These are words that too often get pushed aside in our time, as fear and anxiety seem to be ever present. Hope, peace, joy, and love offer us a very different vision from that of fear and anxiety. Then, as we arrive at Christmas Eve, may we be ready to embrace God’s vision of salvation revealed in Jesus. Let us come together as ones who are faithful to God’s promise, with joy and triumph to Bethlehem so that we might behold the one “born the King of angels.” Yes, let us gather on Christmas Eve to “adore him” who is “Christ the Lord.”
Since I mentioned gathering for Christmas Eve, I need to make note that once again we will gather at 4:00 PM for a service of carols, readings of scripture, a word for the season, and of course communion. It’s a relatively simple service, but it always seems to be a blessed event, so bring family and friends to join us in the celebration, as we remember that Christmas is really about the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus. Yes, it will be a joyous opportunity.