by The Rev. Neal McGowan
I once knew a priest who every year on the first Sunday of Advent began his sermon with a hearty “Happy New Year!” I am not sure anyone ever grew to appreciate this annual liturgical tradition, but my priest friend was having a bit of fun with what we celebrate when we go through the church calendar. In the Episcopal Church we don’t just bolt straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas (or, shudder, from spooky season in October to Christmas season). Instead, for four Sundays prior to Christmas (this year the first Sunday of Advent is on November 27th) we mark the season of Advent. While the year is ending, daylight shortens, and in anticipation of Christmas, we celebrate a season that is all about expectation.
We look forward to Christmas, and our remembrance of Christ’s incarnation 2,000 years ago. However, we also look forward to the day when Christ will come again to “judge the living and the dead” as we say each week in the Creed. Advent is a season of expectation, and what we are expecting is for Christ to be with us in a real way just as he was in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, and we expect that he will come again one day to be with us for all eternity. How can we create that expectation for Christ in our homes during Advent?
Well, thankfully, the time leading up to Christmas is already filled with expectation! If you have young children, then you know that they eagerly await Christmas. You don’t have to squash that natural and good expectation and excitement with boring religious things. All you need to do is guide some of that wonderful childlike expectation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We know that December is a busy month. We also know that there is a shadow side to the holidays: commercialism, consumerism, and sometimes a sense that what you do, or buy is never enough. So, to help you build a little holy expectation in your home we have a practice that we recommend for you—the Advent wreath!
If you miss out on making a wreath, or if making a wreath is not your thing, you can easily buy one online or in stores. Click the link below to access a handy guide on how to use this devotional tool at home. The Advent wreath ceremony won’t take you more than 15 minutes. Make a goal to light one of the candles on the wreath at least once a week. You can do this over dinner. Sing a little bit of a carol, read a verse from Scripture, and say a prayer. This devotion works for a 2-year-old and a 70-year-old. Build a little holy expectation this holiday season.