Hello St. Paul’s,
The middle of August might seem like an odd time to talk about the Advent season, but we regularly plan at least a liturgical season ahead, and Advent will be upon us before we know it, especially this year. As you know, Advent, the opening season of the church year, has traditionally been observed in the Episcopal Church for the four Sundays before Christmas. However, there is a longstanding and widespread alternative tradition of observing Advent for a period more equivalent to the 40 days of Lent.
This year, Christmas Eve falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent, making for a compressed period that presents a special challenge for all the events we like to enjoy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The secular world takes on a frenetic pace in that period, and matters of faith may be inadvertently marginalized as we focus on gifts, travel, and special gatherings. How might we, as people of faith, live fully into the season of anticipation and preparation for the birth of our Savior? This is a good year for us to explore an alternative model and savor the fullness of the season; accordingly, we are going to observe a seven week Advent this year, starting on November 12.
The theology of the season is focused on the coming of Christ in three modes (past, present, and future), but with a strong accent on the end times, the second coming of Christ in glory and majesty. This theology is supported by our Revised Common Lectionary readings that highlight end-of-time themes, beginning early in the month of November, even when the four week Advent season doesn’t begin until early December.
In all three years of the lectionary, the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Epistles complement the themes of the gospel readings, all of them dwelling on the nature of Christ’s coming, what the fullness of God’s reign looks like, and how best to prepare. Including these Sundays in an expanded Advent would deepen our sense of the full meaning of the season. So the lectionary is encouraging us to extend the season further into November.
A longer Advent also allows us to more fully explore the interesting combination of anticipation and penitence that characterizes Advent theology, resisting the temptation to rush ahead to the incarnational themes of Christmas (not to mention the way the culture pushes us to do, buy, and consume ever more, as the carols start to play and the decorations start to appear in the stores as early as Halloween). Perhaps we can give ourselves the gift of Advent before the consumer frenzy overwhelms us.
Some of our greatest hymns were written for the Advent season, and we are often hard-pressed to fit in all of our favorites. A longer season allows us to luxuriate in the musical and liturgical riches of our tradition while attending to all the busy expectations of the pre-Christmas period.
Beyond the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, what specific texts and practices would give content and meaning to an expanded, seven Sunday Advent? One way would be to use the well-known “O Antiphons,” as expressed in the verses of the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” as thematic unifiers for each Sunday, as well as tying the season as a whole together. We can make use of familiar visual cues, including our beautiful blue vestments and chancel hangings and the Advent wreath (adapted to hold seven candles rather than four). Perhaps some creative individual could design a seven week Advent calendar for our families (the commercial ones always start on December 1, which is rarely the actual beginning of Advent).
Our plan is to begin Advent this year on November 12, which is also the day of the Veterans and Armed Forces Evensong. In the ensuing seven weeks we will be celebrating the Advent Procession, the 2024 pledge ingathering, Thanksgiving, the Messiah Sing, the Alternative Gifts Expo, and Christmas Lessons and Carols; the season will culminate in the family service and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Additional events by outside groups may be added to this schedule. It is a lot! My hope is that seven weeks will allow us to observe the season with a sense of inner peace while entering fully into all the special events and celebrations that accompany the period before Christmas.
If there is any aspect of this plan that you have questions about, feel free to ask me. I look forward to this more expansive season.
Your sister in Christ,
Portions of this letter were derived from a blog post by the Rev Kristian Wold: her full post can be read here: https://www.hopelutheran.ca/blog/advent-in-seven-weeks