A version of this story was first published in 2017.
Each year, the weeks leading up to Christmas carry a sense of anticipation. But while in dollar stores and malls this may translate to chocolate-filled cardboard calendars, churches enter into this season with a sense of preparation and expectation for greater things to come.
Taking place in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Advent is the start of the liturgical year. Its name is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” and the season signifies anticipation both for Christ’s birth at Christmas and for his second coming.
“I think it is, in some ways, the most neglected season of the church year,” says the Rev. Jay Koyle, who is congregational development officer in the diocese of Algoma and chair of the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry committee. Rather than simply a time of preparation for Christmas, Koyle says, Advent is about awaiting “the full manifestation of God’s kingdom.
“We hear from the prophets, we hear from John the Baptist…When our whole society is doing what it calls Christmas, but with a really strong consumerist emphasis, Advent represents something quite different,” says Koyle. “It almost helps the church, if we observe it, to hold a prophetic posture.”
At the Church of the Advent, in Colwood, B.C., the first Sunday of Advent is celebrated almost as a patronal festival. The church was formed 30 years ago in the merging of two previous congregations, and its name, inspired by a church of the same name in Chicago, was chosen to denote a church that was expectant.
For the church’s rector, the Rev. Sandra Hounsell-Drover, this expectation is important. In a way, she says, the season is “poorly placed,” as the impact of Advent is eclipsed by the jolly tone of Christmas.
“We’ve lost some of the solemnity that has, historically, circled the season of Advent,” says Hounsell-Drover. Advent, she says, is a “pregnant pause” that helps us to “spiritually, pause in some way to prepare our lives for the second coming.”
At parishes in the past, Hounsell-Drover has run “quiet days” during Advent, which offer a time to get away from the “energy of the secular world” and reflect. For small groups who want to reflect on the Advent Scripture, Koyle created Advent reflections for 2017 that are available on the diocese of Algoma website.
“That’s what the season of Advent is; it’s putting everything else on hold while we right ourselves…just before the world gives birth to Christmas,” says Hounsell-Drover.
At the end of a year filled with political turmoil, natural disasters and stories of hate and injustice, Advent can be a source of great hope.
“We have this wonderful season that really sets up the whole church year to not just be looking backwards, but to be looking at what God is up to now, what God promises, and to live out God’s promises,” says Koyle. He sees Advent as an opportunity to pray for the justice, peace and reconciliation of God’s kingdom.
“What I see in the prophets that we hear during Advent is, they offer insightful critique of the world around them, but they always present an alternative vision—this is what God promises, or this is what God’s world looks like…For me, that is what Advent is about. It’s not ignoring the realities of the world…It takes very seriously whatever the problem or the injustice is in front of us, and really demands our engagement with it,” says Koyle.
“If we’re working to feed those who are hungry, we do it not because we’re hoping we might make a difference, but because in the kingdom of God, all are fed.”
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) has two new Advent resources for 2018. One is a collection of reflections by the Rev. Robert Mitchell that connect stories of courageous and resilient women in the Bible with stories of women in PWRDF programs. The other, “Advent Lives … and is Changing Lives,” is a resource for children that tells the story of Advent through the animals from the PWRDF World of Gifts guide. It has stories, prayers, crafts and fun activities like Mad Libs.
#AdventWord is another tool that encourages people from around the world to respond to a daily meditation with images and prayers, creating a crowd-sourced global Advent calendar. The primate is also encouraging small groups to participate in the Heartbeat of the Church initiative during the Advent season.