Most of us are now familiar with the season of Advent: the four Sundays before Christmas. During these four weeks we often have musicals and Christmas specials. But do we celebrate Advent? The word advent simply means “a coming into being.” It might be likened to a journey with the anticipation of a special event. Through the ages the church has understood the dual “comings,” the anticipatory journey toward the birth of the Christ, and the second coming Christ at the end of the age. The advent season should give a pause in reflecting on the end of time. How shall we anticipate the second Advent of our Lord?
If Advent (not Christmas) is the purpose of the four weeks after Thanksgiving, when do we celebrate Christmas? Is it just December 25? No, Christmas actually goes from December 25 to January 6. Yes, this is twelve days in length—hmmm, anyone feel like singing? These days include the birth narratives, the angels and shepherds, the going to the temple for circumcision, and the sacrifice of doves. It is here that we hear the words of Anna the Prophetess and those of Simeon. It is here that Jesus receives his name, “…for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21 NRSV). This is Christmas.
On January 6 we observe Epiphany (which can be celebrated the first Sunday of the New Year). When we say we’ve had an epiphany, we usually mean that we suddenly realize something new, something we haven’t understood before. We might even phrase it as, “Oh, I see the light!” Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of God, illustrated in the coming of the Magi, who followed the star.
I encourage you to celebrate the richness of this season. Don’t let the parties and shopping rule your day. Let us respond as Mary did when the Scripture says she “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 NRSV).