Friday, December 12, 2008

A Sobering Advent....

Between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion this morning, I talked with Father Acker about Advent. I know that the Anglican/liturgical churches have a different classification for Advent Sundays than the one we use for Advent which I took from Focus on the Family's Advent guide years ago. The more evangelical (for lack of a better word) order of candles is First Sunday: Prophecy; Second Sunday: Bethlehem; Third Sunday: Shepherd; and Fourth Sunday: Angel, with the white Christ Candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

However, Father Acker explained this morning that Advent really doesn't have as much in common with Christmas as we might think. Advent really is in no way a "countdown to Christmas" as it is generally considered today. Instead, it is a penitential season quite separate from Christmas as the focus is not so much on celebrating the First Advent (Coming) of Jesus in the Incarnation as it is a looking forward in anticipation to the promised Second Coming of Christ "to judge the living and the dead." It's about Last Things far more than the coming joy of Christmas.

In keeping with waiting for the Second Coming, the Advent candles are quite different in liturgical traditions. The First Sunday is about Death; the Second Judgment; the Third Heaven (thus the lightening of the penitential purple candles to a rose-colored one), and the Fourth, Hell. Much more sobering than the common Advent calendars covered with images of Santa Claus and filled with 24 little chocolates behind the windows, eh?

Father Acker continued to explain that the Anglican Church has a bit of a different twist on the Day of Judgment. Rather than seeing the Final Judgment as a "weighing in the balance" of our past deeds, the Anglican tradition views Judgment as a face-to-face encounter with God. Either we will love His Face because we indeed are His, or we will run in terror because we do not know or love Him. Interesting thought, that.

Advent is so much more than anticipation of Christmas. It's all about our hearts -- are they truly His? Do we long to see His Holy Face? Do we look joyfully forward to being in His Presence? Advent is a time to consider Last Things -- to ask Him to cleanse our hearts of selfish indulgence (not made particularly easy by all the Christmas parties!) and anticipate seeing the Face of our Beloved, our Light shining in the darkness.

May the Light of His Presence be yours this Holy Season, my friends.

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