Advent, that period following the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day and the twelve days of Christmastide, is the first season of the Christian Year. Advent is, put simply, a season of expectation and waiting. In it, we are put in the place of those who eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah to save and deliver God’s people from the disaster of sin and death. Of course, we Christians have already met the Savior. But, for a time, we step back, and become a people full of expectation, just like the prophets, just like Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, and Simeon. As contemporary culture exemplifies an impatience, especially as Christmas draws near, keeping a holy Advent becomes a counter-cultural exercise, and one that we very much need.
In Advent, we not only seek to embody the expectation of the prophets and watchers of the Bible, we also seek to remember that we are a people oriented in expectation of the coming judgment, when Christ shall return to judge the living and the dead. As opposed to looking upon this day with dread, we look upon it with hope, believing firmly that our judge is also our savior, who died and rose again in triumph over sin and death. This also is a corrective to the cultural assumptions regarding Christmas, that in it we remember merely a historic event. For ancient Christians, the Christ event was about the revealing of God’s justice, not only justification for God’s elect, but the righting of all that is crooked, freedom for the captive, sight to the blind. This cannot be a one-time event. It is carried forth in the ongoing work of Christ’s Body the Church, animated by the Holy Spirit and made fruitful by the enduring presence of Jesus.
Therefore, the Church not only awaits the Feast of the Incarnation with hopeful expectation, but also with a deep and abiding desire to bring Christian hope to the nations by the gift of alms and aid to the victims of injustice. This year, I hope you’ll join me in rising to the support of Father Jerry and Stacy Kramer and Love for the Least as they seek to rise to the aid of refugee orphans and widows in Kurdistan. This “Advent Conspiracy” is but one way to subvert our materialistic culture during Advent. Read more about it here.
In the home, I suggest that every household maintain an Advent Wreath, which is essentially four candles for each of the four Sundays in Advent, a way of counting down the time til we reach Christmas. In our home, we wait to put up any Christmas decorations at all until just a few days before Christmas Eve. We will usually put out a Nativity scene on our mantle, and have Mary and Joseph make the long trek through the house to Bethlehem throughout the season of Advent. In addition to building a sense of wonder and awe at the Incarnation for our children, it greatly reduces the avarice that often plagues children this time of year! We have also found, on a practical note, that Christmas Trees become amazingly affordable in the waning days of Advent, sometimes for as little as $5-$10 for a large tree.
Our practice has been the reading of scripture (there are several guides available, like this one from Full Homely Divinity) following dinner at our table. We have also endeavored to teach our children one Advent hymn per week, culminating with O Come, O Come, Emmanuel on the final week. We have also taken up the practice of undertaking various clean-up projects around our house, so that we can enjoy the Christmas season in a spruced-up and cozy house. Your family traditions can be quite simple, or they can be raucous and elaborate, take for instance one family’s Floor Banging Liturgy.