One of the most common questions asked is, “What time is it?” This is a particularly important question. Thankfully, there is a Christian answer, which the Anglican tradition helps proclaim.
While many religions seek salvation as an escape from time, Christian orthodoxy proclaims that salvation is a redemption of time. Keeping sacred time (hence the word holiday – i.e., “holy day”) is as old as the Christian faith – and in fact, even older. The Christian calendar traces its roots to the principal festivals of ancient Judaism.
Like the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself, the church calendar (also called the liturgical year) is centered on two events that changed human history: the incarnation (the “enfleshment” of the Divine Word in the birth of Jesus – John 1) and the resurrection (the triumph of Easter when death was conquered forever by our Risen Lord). The former is remembered through the Christmas cycle, from Advent until Lent, and the latter through the Paschal, or Easter cycle, from Lent until Pentecost.
The season of Advent begins Sunday, Nov. 29. Our word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” The church year begins with Advent, a season which encompasses four weeks of preparation – first to celebrate the birth of Christ (the Incarnation), but also to await Christ’s second advent to judge the living and the dead (2 Peter 3:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3). Just as the people of Israel awaited a Messiah (“Anointed One”) to fulfill God’s promises, so Christians await the return of Jesus the Messiah to renew all things (Revelation 21).
So, what, exactly, is the season of Advent? And why should we celebrate it? While the secular calendar marks the New Year on Jan. 1, the church calendar marks the new liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent. This year, you might consider wishing fellow Christians both “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Happy New Year!” In addition to being a four-week season of preparation, Advent is also a season of penitence, which is why in traditional, liturgical, historical Christianity the color of the season is purple or violet (the color of penitence since antiquity).
One of the great gifts of the Anglican tradition to the universal church is our beautiful sacred music. A classic Advent hymn is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” because it reflects Advent’s emphasis on waiting and expectation and preparation. In Anglican worship, you will not hear Christmas carols until Christmas Day. Why? Because we live fully into Advent, the season of Christ’s coming to prepare for the joyful celebration of the birth of Our Lord, both collectively and individually.
In the Anglican tradition, each week of the church year has a special prayer, called a “collect” (pronounced CALL-ect), used during Sunday worship and then for the following week. The collect, or communal prayer, for the first Sunday in Advent is:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us 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, through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen. (1928 Book of Common Prayer, p. 90)
It is often said of Christmas that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” This year, I invite you to await the joy of Christmas by marking the days of the season of Advent to prayerfully prepare yourself to receive Him. We warmly invite you to worship with us and (re)discover the beauty of the church year.
The Rev. Jason VanBorssum is vicar (senior pastor) of St. Mark the Evangelist Anglican Church, 109 N. Rogers St., Waxahachie.