THE Church Year begins with Advent, a season of preparation for the Lord’s coming. The season consists of the four Sundays before Christmas, either the last Sunday of November or the first Sunday of December, concluding with Christmas Eve.
Similar to Lent, which leads up to Easter, Advent can be a season of prayer and fasting for baptismal candidates. The tone of Advent is one of longing and anticipation in the midst of suffering, as related in the popular 12th Century hymn:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
THEMES FOR THE SUNDAYS OF ADVENT
· 1st SUNDAY: CHRIST’S RETURN: For churches that use a common lectionary, texts are read from scriptures that speak of Christ’s Second Coming in Final Victory. However, we stress the implications of this hope for present living, not endless speculations – “Be aware, Keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33 NRSV).
· 2nd SUNDAY: JOHN THE BAPTIST: The emphasis on the role of John the Baptist, as the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’.” (Matthew 3:3 NIV).
· 3rd SUNDAY: THE MESSAGE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST: John the Baptist preached repentance in anticipation of the Messiah (Christ): “Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9 NIV). John recognised that he was not even worthy to untie Christ’s sandal (John 1:20), for Christ would baptise “with the Holy Spirit and fire”.(Luke 3:16).
· 4th SUNDAY: FINAL EXPECTANCY: This Sunday emphasises the final events before the coming of Jesus – Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit and Joseph’s dream (Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-38), and the meeting between Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-45).
ADVENT derives from the Latin word: adventus which means “coming” or “approach”.
Advent concludes with Christmas Eve, which is the 24th of December. Traditionally it is a high holy night with midnight Christ Mass. Most protestant churches hold special worship or evangelistic services on Christmas Eve, featuring singing about the birth of Jesus and messages of salvation through God’s gift of himself in Jesus Christ.
As with other seasons of the year, Advent is enriched by the many layers of Christian tradition, symbolism and messages. Advent is a season for:
· Preaching on Christ’s second coming;
· Preaching on the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus’ birth;
· Preparing for Christ’s spiritual coming into human hearts and communities, symbolised by the birth of Jesus in a stable feed-box in the midst of Roman occupied Palestine; and
· A time of increased charitable giving and volunteering.
For many Singapore Christians, Advent is a time for evangelism with Christmas carolling and special events.
Churches frequently have Christmas pageants, musical or dramatic re-enactments of the story of Christmas. While these special events may be scheduled throughout Advent, the weekly gathering of believers ought to be different than a gathering of shoppers. Pastors, worship leaders and musicians should carefully choose hymns and songs that compliment the tone of Advent: our need of a saviour, anticipation of the Day of the Lord, repentance and holiness.
An example is Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn: “Come, thou long expected Jesus”, first published in 1744, set to Rowland Prichard’s majestic Hyfrydol tune.
VISUALS (just a few):
· Advent Wreath – Five candles, set in a circle of four purple, or three purple and one rose colour, candles, and central white one representing Christ. Traditional set in an evergreen wreath.
· Chrismon Tree (evergreen tree covered with white monograms of Christ).
· Jesse Tree (a tree with signs of the ancestors of Christ).
CHRISTMAS DAY: The Nativity of our Lord
Singapore Christians join in the worldwide celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, as told in the Bible. While not the oldest of Christian holy days (Easter is the oldest), Christmas has become probably the most widely recognised, because of the music and cultural effects developed over the centuries.
Almost everyone has heard of Christmas trees, Santa Claus and flying reindeer, even in the tropics. But who has heard of the liberating acts of God initiated in the birth and life of Jesus Christ?
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke (http://bible.gospelcom.net/bible) both tell the story of Mary and Joseph, a simple Jewish couple, who were engaged to be married. Both learned in separate visions that she was to have a child by the Holy Spirit. However, when she was almost ready to give birth, a decree went out from the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, to have census.
Being descended from King David, Mary and Joseph went to the original city of David, Bethlehem, to be counted. However, because of the crowded conditions of the city, they had no place to stay except for a stable for the animals. Mary was forced to give birth in a stable manger. She named him Jesus, or Yeshuah, meaning the “LORD saves”. The account continues that angels appeared in the countryside, and with great fanfare directed poor shepherds to come and see the new-born Christ child.
Some Protestants combine the events of Epiphany (the manifestation of Christ) with Christmas, including the universal sign of a star and the Magi (wise men, kings or astrologers from the east) who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus and worshipped him in the manger.
Where does the name “Christmas” come from?
In the early church, the Mass (communion) for the Nativity of Christ was known as the Christ Mass.
SPECIAL DAYS AND EMPHASES
· NATIVITY OF OUR LORD: Dec 25 — Christmas Day. Many churches have special events or worship on this day. For others it is simply a day to be together with family.
· NEW YEAR’S EVE: Jan 1. Since the time of the Wesleys, Methodists have held a watch night or Covenant Renewal to bring in the New Year.
· EPIPHANY OF THE LORD: Jan 6. The word comes from the Greek, epiphania, meaning “manifestation”. It is variously celebrated as the baptism of Jesus or the coming o the Magi. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches and some Roman Catholic Churches, Jan 6 is celebrated as Christmas.
MUSIC: Given the example set by angels in the fields, Christmas has always been a time of joyful music. From Vivaldi to Handel’s Messiah to the popular French carol, the angels’ theme is found in a vast numbers of musical settings: “Gloria in excelsis Deo” – Glory to God in the highest! Felix Mendelssohn’s festive setting of Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is universally popular.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”
· Christmas Star
· Christmas tree
· Nativity scene, in which the Magi are included on the Epiphany
· Gold, frankincense and myrrh on Epiphany Day
The United Methodist Book of Worship
The online version of The Catholic Encyclopaedia, articles on:
· The Christian Calendar — http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03158a.htm
· Advent — http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01165a.htm
· Christmas — http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm
· The Christian Resource Institute — http://www.cresourcei.org/cyadvent.html
· Ken Collins Web Site — http://www.kencollins.com/holy-01.htm
The Rev George Martzen is Minister Attached to the Bishop’s Office.