Advent: A Time Between The Times

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Christian Faith communities will be celebrating Advent soon and we invite you to celebrate this season in an ecological spirit. We are creating an advent calendar that you can make use of, which will have daily prayers, messages and activities you can follow. This is a special season and we invite you to celebrate it in a special way this year.

star lanternsAdvent – which starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas - is only three weeks away. Advent is a season of expectant waiting and appropriate preparation focussing on the time between Christ’s first coming as God’s incarnation and his second coming as the Judge.  It includes spiritual preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus and anticipation of Christ’s return.  It celebrates the truth about God and his self-revelation in Christ whereby all creation is reconciled to God.

In this dual focus on past and future, advent symbolizes a spiritual journey affirming that Christ has come, is present in the world today, and will come again in power.  This provides a basis for kingdom ethics, a profound sense of living salvifically and sacramentally “between the times”, and our calling to be faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care.

We celebrate with gladness the promise in advent while acknowledging a more somber tone of warning in the strong prophetic call to accountability and judgement.  Because of the dual themes of warning and promise, advent is a time of preparation marked by contemplative prayer.

It is a season of fasting before the feast; of critical introspection and self-assessment; of repentance and transformation as we remember God’s self-sacrifice in the incarnation and crucifixion, and anticipate his return and the coming judgement.  Traditional practices include keeping an advent calendar; lighting candles on an advent wreath; praying a daily advent devotional; and setting up an advent or Jesse tree.

The Jesse tree is a wonderful way to include the whole family in celebrating the faithfulness of God across millennia from creation through to the birth of Jesus.  The tree is decorated on each day of advent with a new symbol representing Old Testament events and characters through to the birth of Jesus.  The dead branch used as a tree represents the stump of Jesse from which Jesus sprang (Isaiah 11:1; 53:2).  The ornaments are linked to his genealogy, and signs of God’s imminence and action in the world in relation to these Old Testament ancestors.  The concept of a Jesse tree dates back to medieval times, with a proliferation of art inspired by this theme over many years.

Advent wreath Advent wreath by Gualberto107

The keeping of an advent wreath is also common practice in many homes and churches.  This is circular and evergreen with five candles, four (three purple and one rose) around the circumference and one white candle in the centre.  The wreath serves as a vehicle to tell the story leading up to the birth of Jesus:  the circle reminds us of God’s mercy and love that have no beginning or ending, the evergreen speaks of our hope in God of new life.

The candles symbolize His light entering the world as our source of life and are lit one by one over four weeks leading up to Christmas day to symbolize the darkness of fear and despair receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed in the world.

We invite you to celebrate an ecological season of advent from 29 November through to 24 December, with the emphasis on making a pilgrimage with God from the beginning of time, through a time between times, to the end of time in recognition and celebration of creation, re-creation and a new heaven and new earth.

This could begin by joining the Global Climate March on 29 November, after the Sunday service, and can continue with the creation of a Jesse tree. The whole family can participate in making and adding decorations each day to create a living advent calendar with stories, prayers and activities.

In church, the Sunday services over four weeks could be shaped around the advent wreath and lighting of the five candles to bring a message of hope and new life as God’s light grows in the darkness to dispel sin and despair.

We are busy creating an ecological advent calendar for you, with ideas for prayers, messages and activities for each day. We will send it out once it is completed and put it up on our Earth Keeper website, which you can visit for each day’s activity and prayer.

This is an adapted version of Rev Glynis Goyn's reflections on Advent. Rev Goyns is developing the ecological advent calendar for SAFCEI.