Advent: A Necessary Season
By Rev. Monica C. Jones, PhD, 6th Episcopal District
One of the traditions that makes the African Methodist Episcopal Church a rich blend of liturgical order and cultural relevancy is our commemoration of the Advent Season. As an informed body of believers, we know that Advent guides us to the true meaning of Christmas. I lift three points as we approach this necessary season: Advent is not Christmas; Advent is teachable; and Advent is principled.
Advent precedes Christmas on the Christian calendar. It should not be confused with Christmastide. This special season translates from the Latin term Adventus Redemptoris, or the coming of the Savior, and it lauds the spirit of expectation or anticipation of Jesus the Christ.
During Advent, relevant prayers, music, readings, meditations, and hopefully, sermons may be presented to congregations in order to strengthen our Connection to Christ’s coming. Christian educators, pastors, and other leaders should emphasize that this season is for personal and spiritual reflection. Advent is an intentional worship experience that should be definitively identified, such as in the singing of the celebrated hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
Next, the concept of Advent can and should be taught. Each year as November approaches, plans to teach the basic fundamentals are timely. Everyone does not understand Advent, so be prepared to teach the congregation about why we observe it, and that like Lent, it ushers in the climatic day of celebration. Beautiful, African American-inspired Christian education materials, sacred dance, and religious plays are just a few modes of expression that enhance the learning experience and help make Advent relevant for our congregations. Of course, preparing the church to observe the weekly (the four Sundays before Christmas) activities where candles are lit and the meaning of the colors is a vital part of the teaching moment. Resources are available through the AME Church’s Christian Education online sites and many local AME churches’ bookstores.
Finally, keep in mind as we celebrate Advent independent of Christmas and teach its fundamental concepts that Advent is a principled expression of worship that is applicable anywhere and anytime. The four most popular themes are hope, peace, joy, and love. Even though these themes may not necessarily be recognized in that order, they represent important principles of our faith. They are the spiritual fabric of Christian living. Without hope, we have no reason to move forward. Without joy, we are vacant wanderers. Without peace, we give chaos control. As Paul tells us, without love, we are but a sounding brass. It is an intergenerational lesson. As the church becomes familiar with the symbols of Advent and how to present candle lightings, wreaths, and so on, the people develop their own special worship tradition. Most importantly, they take the lessons learned with them into the Christmas season.
This approach to understanding Advent represents an effective way to encourage interest and excitement in the church. It enables us to bring the message of the Messiah home to the hearts of people! Advent is not Christmas but it ushers Christmas in. It can be taught creatively and meaningfully to worshipers. It is principled and relevant to all believers. I pray that in this time of uncertainty and doubt that we will move with power and boldness into the Advent Season! Let us intentionally and prayerfully embrace each week. As we light a candle, announce a theme, write a meditation, or preach a sermon, let us remember that the reason for this season is to await our precious Savior! More than ever, Advent is an important worship expression for each of us; more than ever, Advent is necessary.
Note: Whenever the first Sunday of December falls on the second week, as it does this year, the first Sunday of Advent is the last Sunday in November. Otherwise, it is the first Sunday in December. The First Sunday of Advent this year is November 27 and Christmas Day (the final candle lighting) is on the fourth Sunday.
The Reverend Monica C. Jones, PhD, is the Director of Christian Education at Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta, Georgia.