The earliest followers of Jesus were a people deeply rooted in tradition and history. Their entire identity was constructed around the central belief that the one true God, Yahweh, was their God and they were His people. This truth, that God declared the nation of Israel to be His people and He would be their God, was a promise God made to His people. This promise is called a covenant. It's beyond a contract, more than an exchange of "I cross my heart and hope to die," more than a mere agreement. A covenant is a commitment; it's an unconditional, unbreakable, never-ending, always-and-forever kind of commitment. Though God’s people would run from Him and go through droughts of forgetting Him, their God would never stop loving them and they would never stop needing Him. Though they would wander, He would remind them of His promise and bring them back home. Though there were times their enemies were triumphant, He would rescue them. He promised He would be the shepherd they needed most and that He would provide perfectly for them. He would be their father and He was their home.
What is central can easily fade with the passing of time from generation to generation, from family to family. In an attempt to protect the very central identity as God’s people, God would instruct His people to wear certain things, do certain things at certain points throughout the day, and even stop what they were doing at certain points throughout the year, all to remember. By pressing pause and stopping long enough every day, every week, every month, and throughout the year, God’s people would gather to celebrate with feasts and festivals to remember who God is, what He has done for them, and what He promised He would do. There is an art to remembering. A certain rhythm and cadence is necessary to keep our attention.
In our fast-paced, always-on, and connected modern lifestyle, we are prone to wander, prone to forget. We all run the risk of being caught in the ever-present net of distraction.
One of the ways the early church attempted to remember, very similar to the feasts and the festivals celebrated in the Old Testament, was to carve out seasons on the calendar. These seasons each had a different emphasis and invitation to engage. The invitation was to keep in step with the seasons, to remember there is more still. It provides a sense of cadence and rhythm to the year. We need a sense of rhythm in our time -- it's what makes one moment different from another -- it gives shape and color and form to all of life. It's a gift that separates and arranges the year into patterns and rhythms. It gives variety. Tuning into this rhythm keeps the seasons from overlapping and mixing together where they are no longer clearly identifiable. Our corporate consumer culture continues to blur these lines. A wide array of pumpkin treats begin to hit shelves in July and August amidst ninety-degree days while Christmas displays are set up beside grim reaper and superhero costumes. It becomes nearly impossible to fully engage and be present in the moment as we’re forced to always look ahead to what's next.
The art of remembering is the art of engagement.
Engagement invites presence.
Repetition always runs the risk of becoming trivial. Whenever we find ourselves doing the same things in the same ways over time, if we're not careful, we can forget why we're even doing what we're doing in the first place. In our daily lives, in our families, in our church gatherings, rote, religious repetition without understanding and the desire to remember will always only be lifeless, religious duty. Tradition, history, liturgy, and personal discipline are all designed for the same intent: to remember. The church calendar creates an opportunity to remember.
Many of us know about the holidays, one day a year set apart, but the church calendar is about seasons; we enter into a stretch of time with a specific cry, by a particular intention, for a certain reason. This brings us back to the church calendar. The early church understood the significance of emphasizing specific themes in specific seasons, all with the hope and desire to remember. The Church calendar invites us to keep in step with the seasons’ different textures, moods, and theological emphases.
For the Church, each new season carries with it an invitation to see with new eyes and a fresh perspective the same truth, the same covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” We remember again how God accomplished His promise perfectly through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus. The church remembers and celebrates the fulfillment of longing, expectation, and anticipation of the birth of Jesus every year during the season of advent. We reflect and we remember every year that there is still more and God is still keeping His promise perfectly. Tradition, history, and the church calendar allow us to reflect, remember, and celebrate but also to look forward in expectation, longing, and anticipation.
What is Advent?
The word "advent" means coming or arrival.
Advent is a season of celebration. We remember the first coming of Jesus the Christ. It's the celebration of the birth of Christ and now the anticipation of the return of Christ the King for His church. Advent carries a sense of expectation and preparation. It has a threefold focus: past and future as we celebrate in the present now. Advent also symbolizes the pilgrimage of the church, as we affirm that Christ has come, that He is present WITH us in the world today, and that He will come again in power. The beautiful tension of advent is the already, but not yet.
We acutely know things are not as they should be in our world. Something is missing. We know there is more. The depravity of the human condition is all around us, all the time. The apostle Paul writes that all of creation "waits in eager expectation" and that "the whole creation has been groaning" (Romans 8v19, 22). Advent is about longing and desire. Advent is far more than simply marking a two-thousand-plus year old event in history. It's about celebrating the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. So we yearn for deliverance.
Advent invites us to ache together.
Anthony DeMello says, "Spirituality is about waking up." Advent happens every year to remind us that Jesus was sent to awaken us from our slumber.
With the changing of seasons, we're invited to keep in step with the rhythm. As fall approaches, summer’s rhythm begins to change. The daylight has been waning and soon with the fallback of our clocks, the evening will fall upon us sooner, almost as our invitation to begin to slow down with the changing. All of creation in these parts is going dormant. The bright and dark greens have turned to fire reds, burnt oranges, and pale yellowish hues, holding on until they give way to the inevitable lifeless browns and the downward pull of death. All of creation seems to be
Preparing to reveal the extravagant tapestry of spring, the expectant and fully anticipated burst of resurrection.
The church calendar was designed in such a way to follow the story. The story in which all stories find their meaning. Spring only makes sense in the context of winter, and resurrection only makes sense in the context of death. If you find yourself in a place with seasons, you know that all of creation is going dormant right now.
Creation brims with expectant longing for the coming rescue.