Extended Advent 2014
As you may have heard, we are trying a change in the church calendar this year! We are expanding Advent to a seven Sunday season, which means Advent will begin on November 9 this year. This change is one that congregations from a wide variety of denominations have been experimenting with for nearly a decade, and we hope that by joining in this longer Advent season, we can better appreciate the true meaning of both Advent and Christmas.
Why Expand Advent?
We are expanding Advent for two reasons: first, the Church in many ways has lost the Advent season to the commercialization of Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent always occurs after Black Friday (sometimes immediately after, other times a week later), so by the time we have begun our season of preparation and expectation, secular culture has already told us what the meaning of Christmas is: buying more stuff and spending more money!
We also tend to focus on Advent as a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. This is an appropriate aspect of Advent, but it misses out on the primary emphasis of the season: a focus on the coming of the Kingdom of God. Advent reminds us that God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ (the Incarnation), and reminds us that God will come again in glory to bring his Kingdom to its fullest. It is also a reminder of our responsibility as the church for working toward God’s mission of peace, justice, reconciliation, and holiness.
So What Will Change?
Surprisingly, not much! Advent was originally a seven week season until Pope Gregory the Great shortened it to its current form. It took many centuries before all churches were celebrating the four Sunday Advent, and the Scripture readings of the season did not change even when Advent was shortened. So, we will be using the same Scripture readings that would typically follow All Saints’ Sunday. Our hymns and musical emphases will slowly shift toward more Advent-focused themes, and we will read weekly antiphons based on the seven verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” to help us with the weekly themes of the season. Our Doxology will be the same words as we are used to, but to an Advent hymn (Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates).
The sanctuary decorations will change slowly. Advent Purple will replace the traditional Pentecost green on November 9, and we will slowly add additional decorations and atmospherics as get closer to Christmas. The Advent wreath will begin on the fourth Sunday of the season. Hopefully, we will all come away from this expanded season with a better understanding of the significance of Christ’s coming, both at Bethlehem and his future return in glory.
We will also worship with a special Advent “Lessons and Carols” service on December 21 (similar to the one we did last year), where we will enjoy Advent and Christmas music and hear the Scriptures read that prepare us for the coming of Christ.