How many times did my mother tell me “no dessert until you eat your vegetables,” or “no television until you finish your homework”? This is how it often seems in the church during December. “No Christmas Carols until after Advent.” It’s understandable that it sometimes feels unreasonable. After all, the other kids get to do it. Christmas carols are everywhere starting right after Thanksgiving; on the radio and TV, at the mall and grocery store, in the elevator, and even in many non-liturgical churches. We are swamped with Christmas the very minute we stop buying turkeys. But, just because the other kids are doing it doesn’t mean we have to also.
The Anglican Communion is a liturgical church. This means, in part, that we follow a prescribed liturgy in our daily worship and a yearly lectionary which determines the readings for each service in conjunction with the liturgical seasons. The first of these seasons is Advent. In following the lectionary, we observe Advent for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and wait until the eve of the blessed day to recognize Christmas in all aspects of our worship. This is the case in all liturgical traditions including the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran churches.
Like most kids, I didn’t like being told to eat my vegetables, but it was mostly because I didn’t understand. As I got older, I began to appreciate delayed gratification. I saw the truth in the axiom that good things come to those who wait, and that dessert is even sweeter when we have anticipated it for a while. One of the things about Advent is that it makes Christmas all the more special. However, there is much more to it than that. After many years of having them both prescribed, I find that in addition to being good for me, I actually like Advent and vegetables. Advent is not just a time to wait for Christmas. It is a time to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”.
Advent is the season of John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, of Gregorian chant and Handel’s “Messiah”. It is a season filled with inspiring imagery and symbols of darkness and light. It is like those magical moments just before dawn. Take time to appreciate the unique beauty of Advent. Jesus will be here soon. Until then, look both ways before you cross the street, brush your teeth before bed, and never run with scissors in your hand.
Advent Music Highlights:
Sunday, Dec. 10 at 10:30
Excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah” with strings and tenor soloist Michael Forest.
Sunday, Dec. 17 at 4:00
Service of Lessons and Carols with the Mastersingers of Virginia. Featuring “Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten.
Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 7:30
Concerti for Strings by Arcangelo Corelli including Christmas Concerto to benefit hurricane victims through The Episcopal Relief and Development Fund.