Prepare to receive gifts new church year brings

12/4/2007

By Rev. Michelle Foster
Conference Staff

Happy New Year! That’s right, I said, “Happy New Year!” We are in a new year in our church calendar. Dec. 2 marked the beginning of a new church year for Catholics and Protestants. This day also marked the beginning of Advent; a season that is observed on the first Sunday closest to Nov. 30 and continues for the following three Sundays prior to Christmas. 

The word Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming.” This joyful and celebrative season is most often characterized throughout our worship services in the remembrance of the anticipation and preparation for Christ’s birth in a lowly stable. Though the season of Advent provides us a time to prepare through prayer, reflection and solitude for the great and holy day of Christmas, Advent also signifies our preparation and anticipation of Christ’s returned coming into the world and his continued coming in grace to a hurting and broken world.

Dennis Bratcher, in an article on the season of Advent, states it beautifully: “Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. This is the process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate.” 

Advent became a recognized season in the church year in the middle of the fourth century when Christians recognized the need for a preparatory season, similar to Lent, to prepare for the holy days of Christmas and Epiphany. The seasons of preparation and anticipation, which we now call Advent and Lent in our church year, were observed through the participation in the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, penitence and self-denial.

As early Christians recognized the link between Christ’s birth and death, so Advent and Lent were tied together through the sharing of the liturgical color of purple. Purple symbolizes penitence and fasting as well as royalty. In the last 50 years, however, the season of Advent has shifted to an observance that is much more joyful and celebrative in nature. The shift in preparatory practices during the season of Advent has also introduced the liturgical color of blue in place of purple. Royal blue is now often used throughout our worship services to denote Christ’s coming as King to the world. 

Our annual calendar year is beginning to close its doors on the year 2007. Our  Christian calendar year is just beginning. How are you preparing to receive the gift that a new year will bring? What colors, symbols and words are used to celebrate the new year and the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus? However you prepare,  I pray that it is being done in a way that makes room for the gracious and mysterious movement of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Happy preparations and Happy New Year!

Foster serves on the Mississippi Conference staff.