What Time Is It? Introduction to Advent – Part 1/4
Who Gets to Tell Us What Time It Is?
It’s a simple child’s game you have surely played before. It starts with a line of kids on one side of the field and a single child standing with their back to the crowd at the other end. The group of kids on the one end yells in unison: “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” And the fun begins. Although it’s a silly game, part of the question being asked is essential for Christians.
Many have never considered this question when it comes to their daily, weekly, or yearly calendars. In fact, much of how we tell and keep time is based on national holidays and the school calendar, with the “beginning” of the year starting every August or September.
Is There a Different Way?
Since Summit Ministries desires to see generations of Christians mobilized to transform a broken world, re-imagining how we tell time is crucial for this calling.
For the next several weeks, we want to introduce you to an ancient way of telling time that shaped centuries of faithful Christians who came before us. It’s called the Church Calendar, and we will be focusing primarily on the season of Advent. Through seasons like Advent, Christians were formed to embrace God’s truth and champion a biblical worldview in environments often hostile to Christianity. Jesus says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Jesus is inviting us to never see time the same way again. This week, we will define what Advent is and clear up some misconceptions. Next week, we will explore the first advent of Christ’s coming in Bethlehem. Then, we will provide concrete ways to enter into the Advent season this year. And finally, we will unpack the importance of Advent within the biblical narrative.
What Is Advent?
Christians around the world will mark Sunday, December 3rd, 2023, as the beginning of a new year in the season of Advent. This season is part of what is known as the “Church Calendar,” which is a way many Christians re-narrate time in light of the central events of history. This calendar begins with a cradle of hay but will lead us to the Cross, and ultimately to the crowning of Jesus as King over all creation.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” Historically, Christians have understood Advent as a season of anticipating the arrival of Jesus but also longing for the Second Coming of Christ. Typically, Advent is a season of four Sundays that lead us to Christmas Day. In some traditions, the first two weeks of Advent focus on the longing for Christ’s Second Coming, while the last two weeks focus on remembering and anticipating Jesus’s birth. In other traditions, the four Sundays of Advent have an attached word or theme: hope, peace, love, and joy.
Is the Church Calendar Relevant for Christians Today?
For many evangelicals, the concept of observing the Church Calendar could feel suspiciously like a human tradition or even “Catholic.” Some might ask: What evidence from Scripture supports keeping the practices of Advent and the Church Calendar? In Scripture we find the practice of keeping different seasons to remember that God acting in history is a deeply rooted theme. For example, when the Israelites were freed from their enslavement in Egypt, God instructed them to celebrate a series of festivals and seasons to remember what God had done (Exodus 12). These festivals were one of the primary ways God’s people passed the knowledge of God from one generation to the next. Interestingly, God re-orders time for Israel by instructing them to see the Passover meal and festival as the “first month of the year” (Exodus 12:2).
For us now, the Church Calendar realizes ancient Israel’s festivals in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Long before the questionable practices of the Church at the precipice of the Protestant Reformation (1500s), there is evidence going back to the fourth century (380 A.D) of Christians practicing the season of Advent. Advent belongs not to any specific church denomination, but to the one, holy, catholic (“universal”) church—of which every Christian is a part.
Why Should I Practice Advent?
Many of us have found ourselves sitting at an airport terminal waiting for someone. As we look around we see people checking the flight status screen, anxiously reaching for their phones, endlessly scanning through a sea of people for their specific person. There is something sacred about watching friends reunite, couples embrace, and children joyfully running into the arms of a parent. The airport terminal is an icon of a deeper longing humans have: a longing for God’s arrival—An advent.
To cultivate this deep longing in our hearts, we need practices that awaken our affections. In light of this, the season of Advent becomes an invitation for every Christian to long for Jesus in a fresh way.
However, there’s a problem. The season of Advent is a contested space in the Western world. Advent often becomes merely a consumeristic version of Christmas that re-orders human longings not for Jesus Christ and his Kingdom, but for a lavish spread of toys and trinkets. Well-meaning Christians are often completely unaware of how the cultural waters they swim in have thoroughly taken over a deeply Christian celebration. Our invitation at Summit is for you to recognize this cultural clash, allowing the first coming of Jesus to reorient this season for you, your family, and your community.
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