Winter Lent

What should we be doing during Advent? The best place to start is by understanding what Advent means. I want to give you an excerpt from an article that I read in Christianity Today on that subject:

"God of hope, I look to you with an open heart and yearning spirit.
During this Advent season, I will keep alert and awake,
listening for your word and keeping to your precepts.
My hope is in you." ~ Matthew Kelly

For many Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical year, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. Some people may know that the Advent season focuses on expectation and think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ's birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but there's more to Advent.

The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming," which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the fourth and fifth centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God's incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1); his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29); and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration. Originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the sixth century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. The "coming" they had in mind was not Christ's first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ's first coming at Christmas. (Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary.)

I believe that we should research, as best we can, the meaning of all the liturgical seasons that we celebrate and participate in during worship, and the Advent season is one that has not been defined and put into practice well as it should be.

Fr. Justin Holcomb defined Advent and lifted up the original purpose of observing Advent as preparation for the baptism of new believers in Christ, and the other seasons that celebrate Jesus' manifestation and baptism, including doing penance during Advent, similar to that of the season of Lent. That is why some people often refer to Advent as "Winter Lent." Some people do take a more solemn attitude and seek to build stronger spiritual ties to God and become more disciplined in their spiritual habits during this time.

However, that type of observance of Advent is no longer a popular way to spend the time that many people have come to think of as pre-Christmas. The preparations that most of us participate in during Advent center on buying gifts and planning celebrations, these are the things many of us find meaningful during the four weeks of Advent.

Yet, I still would like to purpose a way for us to observe the Advent season. It surrounds the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. If we take each of these themes and practice them to the highest degree possible in our daily lives, we can find a way to be Advent people, not just pre-Christmas people.

We can give hope to someone in the form of help materially, emotionally, or as part of serving in a mission focus. Let us open peaceful connections with at least one person or group that we have strongly opposed and help to build bridges that may lead to a collaboration that could offer genuine peace and not symbolic acts that are shallow.

We can seek out creative ways to show our joy to the people in our families, friends, and community so they will feel a sense of true fellowship and share some fun together. Finally, the love of God is in us to give to others. Let us sacrifice our time during this busy season by intentionally showing those around us that we care about them, love them, and do so by listening to them, being venerable with them, and accepting them for who they are, whether we agree with everything they believe or not. Advent should be filled with those things every year. Amen.

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