Friday, December 7, 2012

The Beginning of Advent

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
December 7, 2012

The Lord be with you

Advent Season is the beginning of the Church Year. It begins with the First Sunday in (or “of”) Advent. The First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Anthony, Apostle, which is November 30. This year that means Advent I is December 2.

There are four Sundays in Advent but, if November 30 falls on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, there are only three Wednesdays. For those congregations that have special Wednesday services during Advent, it can seem odd that their congregation is not having four Wednesday services. That, however, is just how it works.

Though Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year, it was not the first part of the Church Year to develop. That honor belongs to Easter, which was commemorated the very first Sunday after the Resurrection. It quickly developed into an annual celebration. I will write more about that for the Lent/Easter seasons.

Christian time is divided into three great seasons: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Advent is part of the Christmas cycle along with the Christmas season itself and the Epiphany season. I will write more about the Christmas and Epiphany seasons when they arrive.

It may surprise people that Christmas was not a big deal with the Early Church. The “Great Triduum” (Good Friday through Easter Sunday), as the pinnacle of the work of Christ, was the focus of the work of Christ and the Christian life. (These three days are reckoned by the Jewish system of measuring days meaning it was from sundown Thursday to sundown Sunday and, therefore, included the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday.)

Once, however, we recognize the “Great Triduum” as the focal point of salvation history, we also see the importance of all the events that led up to it as they shape our time. That includes, of course, the birth of the person who later died and rose to save us.

It was in the 9th century that Advent became the beginning of the Church year. Way before that, in the year 380, a Church Council declared that there be a three-week fast before the Feast of Epiphany, which is closely related to Christmas. That date was December 17. Later that was pushed back to November. In Rome, the Liturgical season of Advent was first observed toward the end of the 6th century.

So, in a nutshell, Advent appears to have begun after Christmas was lifted up to Christians as a feast to be celebrated.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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