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How I First Learned About Advent

In yesterday’s post, I explained the timing and purpose of
Advent, as well as its unexpected color scheme. I closed by noting that
Advent is growing in popularity, especially among Protestant Christians
who, in many cases, did not grow up with much awareness of Advent. Liturgically sophisticated Protestants, such as Lutherans and Episcopalians, generally are familiar with Advent, but many have just the slightest understanding of this season. For most of my life, I fell into that category. Though, as I noted in my last
post, I enjoyed paper Advent calendars in my youth, I did not think of
Advent as a season of the Christian year. In fact, I had no idea that
Christians even had a year with special seasons. At the First
Presbyterian Church of Hollywood where I grew up, we celebrated
Christmas and Easter, and that was about it. The weeks of December prior
to Christmas were Christmastime, not Advent.

I was a teenager, Lloyd Ogilvie came as Senior Pastor of Hollywood
Pres. He brought with him the tradition of using an Advent wreath in
worship services prior to Christmas. Though we continued to sing
Christmas carols and decorate the sanctuary with Christmas colors, Dr.
Ogilvie did, however, speak of Advent as a season of preparation for
Christmas. Still, I thought of Advent mostly as Christmas-lite, and not
as a distinct season with distinct emphases. (Photo: First Presbyterian
Church of Hollywood on Christmas Eve 2007)

While I was preparing for ordination in the Presbyterian
Church, I took a course in “polity” (church order) at Fuller Theological
Seminary. The professor, Dr. Gary Demarest, lectured on a section of
the PC(USA) Book of Order that focused on worship. In this
lecture, he spoke with zeal about the “Church Year” and its various
seasons. These included: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week,
Easter, and Pentecost. Dr. Demarest talked excitedly about how the
seasons of the Church Year could enrich the worship of a church as well
as one’s private devotions. I had never heard anything like this. I was
intrigued, but didn’t do much with what I learned at that time. I was
serving on the staff at Hollywood Pres, where we continued to use an
Advent wreath in our pre-Christmas worship services, but otherwise
didn’t do much with Advent.

My first full exposure to Advent came when I began as
Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in 1991. It started with
a complaint, of all things. Funny how that happens in church! Sometime
in November, a member of the church came to me to let me know how
unhappy she was that “Loren doesn’t let us sing Christmas carols until
Christmas Eve.” I asked why Loren, our worship director at the time, had
this peculiar proscription. “Because he’s into Advent,” the woman
explained. “He wants to sing only Advent songs during Advent.”

What I heard about Loren seemed odd to me for many reasons,
partly because I could only think of two Advent hymns: “Come, Though
Long Expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It was hard to
imagine four weeks of nothing but these songs, as wonderful as they might

When I talked with Loren, I learned that the complaint I
had heard was only partly true. Apparently, in years past, Loren had
virtually outlawed Christmas music during Advent. He had reserved the
beloved carols for Christmas Eve and the twelve-day season of Christmas
that ended on January 6. But when many people in the congregation let
Loren know how much they missed singing Christmas carols prior to
Christmas, he relented. Now his plan was to start Advent with music that
was Advent-themed, and slowly include Christmas carols in the Sundays
prior to Christmas. A few carols, however, like “Joy to the World,” were
reserved for Christmas Eve and thereafter. (This was ironic, because
“Joy to the World” was not actually written as a Christmas carol! See my article in Worship Leader magazine.)

As I spoke with Loren, reassured that he wasn’t banning
Christmas music altogether before Christmas Eve, I listened to his
passion for Advent and the possibilities of our worship and devotional
life being enriched by observing this season. I was excited by the
potential and eager to experience a more intentional and complete Advent

During my first Advent at Irvine Presbyterian Church, I did
find it odd to sing relatively few Christmas carols before Christmas
Eve. And I did find much of the Advent music to be unfamiliar. We used
the Advent wreath in worship, with its expressions of expectation and
hope. Though I missed some of what I had always associated with the
build up to Christmas, I found that Advent did indeed heighten my
yearning for the coming of Christ, and it did indeed help me to
experience Christmas in a deeper way.

Christmas of 1991, my first at Irvine Presbyterian Church,
was the beginning of my becoming an Adventophile . . . an Advent lover.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share more of what I
learned about Advent. Tomorrow, however, my post will be a special
Advent devotional.

Advent Devotional Guide: Preparing for the Coming of Christ

I have written a devotional guide for Advent. It is based on Scripture, and is meant to be used with an Advent wreath. This devotional is simple and can be used in families with young children. It can also be adapted for other uses, such as Advent-themed worship services or personal devotions. You are welcome to download the Advent Devotional Guide and use it as you see fit. 

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The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, retreat leader, speaker, and blogger. Since October 2007 he has been the Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a multifacted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. Before then, he was for sixteen years the Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California (a city in Orange County about forty miles south of Los Angeles). Prior to coming to Irvine, Mark served on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood as Associate Pastor of Education. Mark studied at Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in the Study of Religion, and a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins. He has taught classes in New Testament for Fuller Theological Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary. Used by permission from markdroberts.com.