Many years ago, my wife Bonnie made a very astute observation; and it has become more incisive as the years have passed. She correctly perceived that the days between Halloween and New Year’s Day just seem to race by. It is as if the calendar is broken after Halloween. Days just disappear.
Our stores just add fuel to this fire. The pumpkin and skeleton decorations and displays give way almost immediately to Christmas trees, festive lights, and images of Santa Claus. Before you can even catch your breath, Thanksgiving Day has arrived and we are bombarded with “Black Friday” advertisements. Then it is a mad dash to Christmas Day. Blink once or twice and before you know it, it is New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Collectively, we have come down with RHS, “Rapid Holiday Syndrome.” Symptoms include anxiety, confusion, nervousness, and disorientation. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a lot of talk these days about vaccines. Centuries ago, the church came up with a vaccine to help prevent “RHS.” Today, churches that follow the liturgical calendar know about this vaccine. When administered properly, it is very effective. It is called the season of Advent.
Going back at least fifteen hundred years, the church began to shape worship around key Christian dates on the calendar. It built a time of preparation into the weeks leading up to Christmas. And by preparation, we don’t mean a time just to buy Christmas presents, bake, and put up decorations. Preparation means spiritual preparation.
For us Christians, the birth of Jesus marks the entry of Messiah into civilization. The world changed the day Jesus was born. It was the high point of human history up to that point. No other date even comes close. So significant was the birth of Christ that it affected the way we count the years in the Western world.
We are in the year AD 2020. “AD” stands for Anno Domini or Year of our Lord. The more politically correct term these days is CE or “Common Era.” But the years are still numbered based on the birth of Jesus. The years before the birth of Jesus are known as BC, “Before Christ” or BCE, “Before the Common Era.”
The whole point is that as Christians, we don’t take the climax of history for granted. The birth of Christ was so significant, so long-awaited, so world changing that we need to prepare ourselves spiritually to observe it every year.
We use those four weeks leading up to Christmas that we know as the season of Advent to wait, watch, and reflect on the significance of Jesus’ birth. Over time, this waiting, watching and preparing also came to apply to anticipating Christ’s Second Coming. So, today during Advent, we are encouraged not to get caught up in the hype and rush into Christmas.
The words of the old Simon and Garfunkel song, Feeling Groovy come to mind, “Slow down, you move too fast.” Advent is a time when we make a special effort to slow down and really reflect on the significance of both the birth of the Christ-child and the ultimate return of the King.
During this season, the stories of John the Baptist figure prominently in our worship; and this makes sense. John the Baptist was the embodiment of the “voice crying in the wilderness” prophesied by Isaiah. John the Baptist’s job was to get the people of Israel ready to receive their long-awaited Messiah.
Because when Messiah came, the old ways just would not do. Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God and life would change and change for the better. To get ready for this new life, John offered the people of his day a water baptism for repentance. In baptism, the old, sinful self symbolically drowns, and the new, cleansed child of God emerges. Every year, during the season of Advent, we are given an opportunity to get ready to receive Messiah.
The year AD 2020 has been challenging to say the least. While we hope and pray 2021 will be better, there is no guarantee it will be. During this time of uncertainty, Advent gives us an opportunity to wait, watch and return to the Lord with hope in our hearts.
Christmas is just around the corner. It will be here before we know it. But, let’s not move too fast. Advent teaches us to use this time to prepare our hearts to receive the babe born in Bethlehem. We also prepare our hearts to receive the King of Kings when he returns through whom God will make all things new. Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.