“Every eye shall now behold Him, robed in dreadful majesty.”

Charles Wesley

As we navigate our way through the course of the next year, I’m planning to feature posts on the Church Calendar.  I find that using the Calendar is a tremendous way to keep ourselves in tune with the life of Christ as we carry on through the daily grind of our own lives.  In and of itself, the Church Calendar is just a road map that carries us through the life story of Christ, from the anticipation of His birth all the way through His death, resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The use of the Church Calendar challenges us to think about time in a new and different way.  Shaping the ebb and flow of our lives around it transforms our minds, and is a spiritual act of worship (see Romans 12:1-2).  Hope y’all enjoy my thoughts on the Church year, and that you might make it a tool in your own spiritual life.

As the Church becomes more and more like the world, it seems that we give most of our focus to the same Christian holidays that the world acknowledges…Christmas and Easter.  Fact is, though, the other seasons of the Church year are very significant, and Christmas and Easter just aren’t quite the same without the seasons that surround them. Think about it…without Advent, which is just before Christmas, there is no Israel waiting for their Messiah to come, and Christ’s birth loses its meaning. Without Epiphany, there are no Shepherds coming to visit this child, acknowledging that He is the king that was prophesied by Isaiah and many others.  Without Easter, with the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no Pentecost, where we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The Church Calendar binds together the Gospel narrative into a package that we can apply to our own daily lives.  It helps to consider every day as something sacred; to live out our ordinary routines in the divine light of story of Christ.

In CS Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”,  it was always winter in Narnia, but never Christmas.  There would be no Christmas in Narnia until the saviour king, Aslan, came to take his rightful place on the throne.   Obviously, it was a difficult time for the inhabitants of Narnia, but also a time of much anticipation of the return of the king.  Prior to the coming of Christ, life was the same for the people of Israel.  They waited anxiously for their Messiah, the King that would set them free from the bondage of dark and cruel forces.

When Christ was born, it had been 400 years since they had heard a word from God. Prior to that, there were always messengers telling them that the Messiah was on his way, from Samuel to Daniel to Isaiah to Hosea;  but for 400 years, from Malachi to Matthew,  the God who had been so ever-present in the Exodus story, who had rescued prophets from the mouths of lions, shamed the priests of false gods in visible and tangible ways, made the sun stand still in times of battle for all to see, and spoke audibly to His chosen people, said nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

This was Israel’s long, difficult winter.

There was nothing the people of Israel could do but hope and believe, and it was this faith, the anticipation of something that they couldn’t fathom or taste or see or wrap their brains around, that kept them going from day to day. Faith that their King was His way to set them free, and change everything.

Like the people of Israel, we spend Advent, which literally means “coming”, waiting to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, the Messiah.  We often forget, though, that for Christians, Advent is a time for us to await with great anticipation and hope the return our King.  Our Aslan, Jesus, is the King Who Was, the King Who Is, is also the King Who Is Coming.  Advent is a time for us to not only reflect on the coming celebration of Christ’s birth in the manger, but to consider and hope for His triumphant return.

Our Lady of the New Advent
(artist unknown)

The season of Advent is comprised of the four Sundays before Christmas Day.  For the Jews, it was a time of waiting on the Messiah.  For Christians, we not only await the birthday of Christ, but we anticipate His return.  It’s a time of hope and faith for all believers.

Advent was first known as St. Martin’s Lent.  Christmas first appeared on the Church Calendar around 300 AD, and by 400 AD, St. Martin’s Lent was widely recognized by Christians.  It was a time of active waiting.  Being a dad of two little red-haired girls, both under the age of 3 years old, I understand active waiting.  When my wife and I were dating, preparing for a night out usually involved me sitting on the couch, watching television while she got ready.  Today, if we’re “waiting” to go out, nobody is sitting around.  There are a million things to do:  getting the diaper bag together, getting clean diapers and clothes on the girls, brushing hair and teeth, chasing them around when they pull off their clothes and diapers, putting them back on, etc.  I have truly learned what active waiting is all about over the past 3 years!  St. Martin’s Lent was a time of active waiting:  One would repent of sins, fast, go to confession, do good works, and pray for Christ’s return.  It wasn’t a time for sitting back and doing nothing!  It was time to prepare for the coming of our King.

In the Anglican tradition, the Sunday before Advent is called “Stir Up Sunday”, based on Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.   The traditional prayer for Stir Up Sunday comes from the Book of Common Prayer, and is as follows:

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Now, there is a good and sticky part to Stir Up Sunday, as well.  If you were going to be fasting for an extended period of time in 400AD, it made sense to take anything that might go bad while you were not eating the tasty stuff, and whip it into something delicious.  The end result of that was Christmas pudding, or what we might call fruit cake.  Over time, some groups began to celebrate Stir Up Sunday on the third Sunday of Advent.  No one is really sure why, but my theory is these folks didn’t have any refrigerators, so the Christmas pudding would be rotten before it was time for the Christmas feast.  There ain’t nothing worse than a rotten fruit cake.

Welcome to the Lee Adams School of Theology.

Here’s some things to know about the season of Advent…

+ The Sunday before Advent is generally celebrated as “Christ the King”  Sunday.  This year, it falls on Nov. 24, 2014.  This feast day was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, with the idea of having occasion to remind all believers that Christ truly is King, over all of us, no matter our position in the world.  It was also a gentle reminder to leaders that there is a King that all of us will submit to, once He returns.  The liturgical colors for Christ the King Sunday are gold and white.

+ The primary liturgical colors for Advent are either purple or blue, except for the third Sunday, when pink is the color used.

advent wreath+ On the First Sunday of Advent, we start lighting the candles on the traditional Advent Wreath.  Three purple candles, one pink (or rose), with the Christ candle in the center being white.  Luke 21:25-28 is typically read, and the first candle on the Advent Wreath is lit.  On that Sunday night, the traditional “Hanging of the Greens” takes place, with music, scripture readings, and various evergreens placed throughout the sanctuary of the church.  One thing I love about historical Christianity is that everything has deep meaning, even the types of evergreens you use.  Traditionally, Cedar = Royalty; Fir and Pine = Everlasting life; Holly = Jesus’ death; and Ivy = Resurrection.

+ On the Second Sunday of Advent,  Luke 1:68-70, 67-68 is usually read.  This reading contains Zechariah’s song of rejoicing at the news of the coming King. You’ll usually hear a sermon about John the Baptist, and how God uses unlikely characters, just like us, to prepare the world for His second coming.  In the same way that John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus’ first arrival, we are challenged to make our world ready for Jesus’ return.

+ On the Third Sunday of Advent, Philippians 4:4-7  is read.  This Sunday is known as “Gaudete Sunday”, with “Gaudete” meaning “rejoice”.  Up until now, the readings for Advent have had a relatively somber tone, focusing on topics like the end times and repentance.  Now, though, we begin to hear about the hope of Christ’s return.

+ On the Fourth Sunday of Advent,  Luke 1:46-48, 51-53 are read.  This reading contains The Magnificat, or the Song of Mary.  Consider her words:  ”He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”  Now we start to get a picture not only of what Christ has done, but what He’s going to do.

+ From December 16-23, the O Antiphons are traditionally sang or chanted during worship services.  While we don’t do this in my own church, I wish we did.  In fact, you probably do this without even realizing it.  Ever heard the hymn “O Come Emmanuel”?  It is based on the O Antiphons.

+ Then, on Dec. 24, of course, there’s Christmas Eve, celebrating the arrival of Christ, and the white “Christ Candle” is lit.  Luke 2:1-7 is read at this time.

Advent is a time that we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, but we also focus on preparing ourselves and the world around us for His return.  Think about it:  If you’re hosting a Christmas celebration, you go to great pains to clean the house so it’s presentable, decorate everything just right, prepare your best foods, all to present to your honored guests.  Advent spirituality is much the same.  It’s a time of preparation.  So, how do we apply this notion of Advent to our lives? By doing good.  Galatians 6:9-10 reads And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  John Wesley defined the principle as…

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

I believe that far too often, Christians become well known for the things that we don’t do.  We don’t drink, smoke, dip , chew or kiss the girls that do.  We don’t have sex outside of marriage, don’t get abortions, don’t cuss, don’t gossip, don’t get angry, don’t have kids that act out or get in trouble.  We’re just perfect.  I think sometimes that we work so hard to show the world the things we don’t do, we forget to be active waiters: people striving to do good, not to impress God, but because we are infinitely impressed with God.  We do good to prepare the world for for the return of our most honored guest, our King, Jesus Christ.

advent cooper

Anthony Ashley Cooper

Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury,  was born in 1801 to parents who were wealthy and influential in English society.  Despite this, but he experienced a pretty terrible childhood, and was neglected and abused by his parents. His closest friend was their housekeeper, Anna Maria Milles, and it is said that his greatest joy in life was to have her read him Bible stories at night.

When Cooper was 16, he witnessed a group of drunken men drop a pauper’s coffin in the street, then curse and laugh when it happened.  From that point forward, he dedicated his life to aiding the poor. He was elected to Parliament in 1826, and worked for the next 60 years developing new legislation to help people who were oppressed. In 1842, he wrote the Coal Mines Act, which prohibited women and young girls from being forced to work in mines. He regulated and reduced factory hours for women and children by means of three different laws he proposed and fought for.   He wrote the Lodging House act, which forced poor houses (homeless shelters) to be sanitary and less crowded. He also founded what came to be known as the Ragged Schools, and filled it with boys who worked as chimney sweeps, flower girls, orphans, prostitutes, young prisoners, and handicapped people. Over 300,000 people attended Ragged Schools in England between 1844 and 1881.  Remember Tiny Tim selling matches in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol?  Dickens was a supporter of the Ragged Schools, and this great holiday tale was inspired by the children who attended them.

Most of the bills he proposed on behalf of the poor were defeated, though. Once he was asked why he kept coming back again and again, trying to help the poor, when Parliament was made up of rich men: men who didn’t want tax money spent on these people. Cooper responded, “I am convinced of the divinity of Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and His coming kingdom.”

His good works and attitude toward the poor were a beautiful expression of his faith. It’s reported that he was known to say often, “There is no real remedy for all this mass of misery, but in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we not plead for it every time we hear the clock strike?”

advent ragged schoolCooper’s favorite verse in the Bible was Revelation 22:20, ”Yes, I am coming quickly”.   On every envelope he mailed, he wrote this passage of Scripture along the edge.  Finally, in 1885, on his deathbed, he is reported to have repeated over and over,  “Come, Lord Jesus.”

When he died, the streets filled with people from homeless shelters, insane asylums, and schools for the poor, and they carried banners with words from Matthew 25: “I was hungry, and you gave me meat”; “I was a stranger, and you took me in”; “I was naked, and you clothed me”; “I was sick, and you visited me”; “I was in prison, and you visited me.” They walked the streets for hours in the pouring rain, carrying these banners in remembrance of Cooper.  A short while later, the Duke of Argyll made a political speech in which he said Cooper’s work “changed the whole social condition of England”.

Why did he do all this? Toward the end of his life, Cooper said, “I do not think that in the last forty years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.”

Today, Cooper shares a Feast Day with William Wilberforce on July 30 on the Church Calendar.  He is remembered in England as “The Poor Man’s Earl”.

Not all of us will influence positive change on the scale of Cooper, but who knows what profound impact our doing our small good deeds might have?  A kind word to a cashier on a busy shopping day, patience while waiting in the return line, a “Thank you” and a coin in the bucket of a bell ringer, an embrace of a loved one, a hot cup of coffee slipped into the needful hand of one who has been soiled and beaten up by life, a silent night reading of the story of a ragamuffin baby born in a manger to a toddler as she drifts off to sleep…All of these things make a difference.  So, as we enter the holidays, let us all strive to do good, living as an Advent people.

In closing, consider this thought from Henri Nouwen:

How do we wait for God?  We wait with patience.  But patience does not mean passivity.   Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise.  It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means “to suffer.”  Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and  letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants.  Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming.”

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


(The Lord is coming)

For more information on the Church Calendar, daily Bible readings, and loads of other information on the Church year,please visit CRI/The Voice.

Also, take a few minutes to explore Full Homely Divinity, an Anglican page with lots of info on liturgical and traditional practices associated with the Church Calendar.  If you love random information as much as I do, you will definitely love Full Homely Divinity!

If you would like to use the O Antiphons as prayers during the week before Christmas, they can be found here.

For a couple of great reads on the Church Calendar, try Sister Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life and Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year.

Finally, one of my favorite sites for Advent devotions is d365, which will send devotions for Advent and the year-round right to your inbox.