Light a Candle for Advent

Light a Candle for Advent

The cycle of the year turns and we come to another new year, this one in the Christian liturgical calendar.  November 25 was Christ the King Sunday, the end of the old year. December 2 is the first Sunday in Advent.  We switch to a different gospel for our readings as a sign that we are at a new beginning.  I heard a church member ask, “What is Advent, anyway” last Sunday.  All he knew was advent calendars, the ones with little doors to open that help a child wait for Christmas.

Advent means “Coming.”  Advent is a season of preparation, but not just for Christmas.  Coming has a double meaning.  It refers to the coming of the Christ Child.  It also refers to the last days, the “second coming” of Christ at the end of time.

It’s a lot easier to get ready for Christmas than to ponder the end.  Appropriately, ideas about the end time have a complex name: they are called “Eschatology.”  Perhaps it is part of the wisdom of the early church to remind us of the end when we are thinking of the beginning, because it is easier to bear that way.  More likely, the coming of Christ was understood as a breaking into history that was the beginning of the end.  There is a piece of Lutheran liturgy which includes the phrase, relating to the appearance of Christ, “at this end of all the ages.”  It is now 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus.  2,000 years is a lot longer than early Christians like Paul believed we would be waiting, but it’s not so long measured against the great scale of the earth’s existence.

Eschaton is Greek for end.  Advent is Latin for coming.  The church has gathered its language and its customs from all over.  In early centuries the Christian church was very savvy about absorbing and combining the religious practices of peoples.  That, as you probably know, is why Christmas is set for December 25, four days after the solstice.  It plays into all the “pagan” holidays of light at the turning of the year from growing darkness to increasing light.

I have a pendant I wear during Advent.  A simple candle, the primary symbol of Advent, light shining in the darkness (“and the darkness has not overcome it,” John wrote).  On the back of the pendant is written: “to give light you must endure burning.”  That is Advent for me: a time to recognize that there is nothing simple about the birth of a baby.

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