Advent signals the season of longing, of expectation, of anticipation, and also signals the beginning of a new liturgical year. In the liturgical cycle, the Church awaits the coming of its King, Jesus. Historically, the season looks in two directions: it replays the original coming of Jesus into the world; and it looks forward to his coming again. Furthermore, Advent is an historic penitential season, a season of contrition. That’s one of the reasons for its original liturgical color, purple, the same as Lent (not blue which represents Mary). Therefore, while Advent awaits, longs for, expects and hopes, it is a dark season, a season of bleakness that anticipates the true light that will soon enter the world, Jesus Christ.
With Christmas decorations appearing in stores the day after Halloween, and with Christmas carols playing in department stores and Starbucks cafés beginning Thanksgiving Day, the culture effectively obliterates Advent. Compare that with what people profess to cherish about Christmas: peace, lowliness, joy, kindness, family, etc., all of which are good things that are enfolded in the promises of Christ’s Advent. Therefore, the culture forces the Church to rush ahead to Christmas by hurdling over Advent. The commercial, Christmas-season fervor forces us into secular acts of worship—of the wrong god(s)? How might we reclaim and appreciate Advent in our own lives?
1. Trim your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and only leave it up for the 12 days of Christmas.
2. Put up an Advent wreath (with candles!) beginning the first Sunday of the season and other festive decorations like fresh spruce garland
3. If caroling, sing songs more related to Advent (O Come O Come Emmanuel; Come Thou Long Expected Jesus; Ave Maria; Come Thou Font; The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came, etc.)
4. Avoid a “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” mindset.
5. Use Advent as the penitential season that it actually was and is: fast, pray, reflect. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Advent is also called “Little Lent” or to quote Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “Winter Pascha.” There is historical evidence that it was an entire 40-day period similar to Lent (beginning November 12, St. Martin’s Day), except this 40-day period prepared Christians for the coming of Jesus into the world. Therefore, all of the practices associated with Lent were similarly associated with Advent. Try adding these other practices to your spiritual life during the season:
a. Go to your spiritual director, priest or pastor and do private confession. How could we celebrate the anticipation of the one who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) without first recognizing, reflecting on and confessing our own sin (James 5:16)?
b. Fast from certain foods or fast on certain days and deepen your experience of self-denial
c. Use your fasting days or other times for extended prayer and silences
d. Break your fasts with true festal celebrations on all four Sundays in Advent
Try adding some or all of this to the remainder of the Advent season. And give the season a chance to form you for the coming King!
Matthew Paul Buccheri is a member of Calvary-St. George’s Episcopal Church in NYC, an STM student at General Theological Seminary, a former Assistant Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC and the founder of Emmaus via Canterbury.