The four weeks leading up to December 25th are traditionally called Advent, which is a season of confession and longing for the coming Messiah. Christmas Day, on the other hand, marks the beginning of the Christmas season in which we celebrate his birth (the 12 Days of Christmas…). We no longer make this a very sharp distinction, nor do we need to be too tied to the church calendar.
Yet each year we plan four services that follow a basic progression toward the birth of Christ (and yes, we include both Advent and Christmas carols!). The candles we light each week represent parts of the birth narrative. On week one, we look at the prophets' foretelling of the Christ child. Week two is focused on Bethlehem as the site of Christ's birth. Week three reminds us of the shepherd's role in the birth narrative. Week four brings us to the Angel's announcement, which of course prepares us for Christmas Eve.
Do We Have a Sense of Longing?
The Old Testament saints longed to see the coming Messiah. They were taught to look forward to his advent. Likewise, the Advent season should remind us that we are also looking forward to the final advent of Jesus. Do we long to see him? Or are we content with cute songs and gifts? Of course, we love the Christmas celebration, as we should. But also, it would be good for us to allow this subtle four-week progression during Advent to cultivate a sense of longing for the final Advent of Christ.