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What Is Advent and How Can Your Church Celebrate It?

What Is Advent and How Can Your Church Celebrate It?

The Advent season has taken on new meaning to me since I joined Sojourn Community Church, where we observe the seasons and movements—such as Advent—of the Christian liturgical calendar.

Growing up, my family celebrated the birth of Christ every Christmas season, singing Christmas hymns, watching films and musicals (often my family was conducting these musicals), depicting the nativity story, sharing delicious meals and treats and gifts with each other.

We didn’t observe the traditional Advent Calendar, however, so this aspect of the Christmas season was foreign to me until I joined Sojourn. Here, we place great emphasis on our expectant waiting in the tension of the already-not yet that characterizes the Advent season.

As part of all creation groaning and waiting for the restoration of all things upon Christ’s return, I know I’ve felt this expectant longing in my heart all my life. I’ve heard countless sermons about Christ’s prophecy-fulfilling first coming and his prophesied second coming, but I didn’t know this “expectancy” had its own season and name: Advent. This season of Advent is a re-enactment of Israel’s wait for the birth of their Messiah, and a symbol of our longing for Christ’s return.

I’ve celebrated Advent with my church family, remembering the fulfillment of Christ’s first coming, and setting our hearts and hope on Christ’s promised return in the context of the tension of this beautiful, broken world. As a result, while still heartily rejoicing over His first coming, I’ve grown in my longing and expectation for Christ’s return. I’ve also grown to appreciate the practice of lamenting in worship as we look forward to the relief from our present suffering and brokenness that we’ll receive when Christ returns.

Lament? During the holidays?
I invite you to join all of creation in the coming Advent season, as we look forward with lament-filled longing for Christ’s return even as we joyfully celebrate His humble incarnation—His perfect life lived, His undeserved death in our place, for our sins. Christ came and Christ conquered sin, Satan and death. And Christ will come again to carry home His church. It’s not only OK but appropriate to lend our voices to honest laments that acknowledge our present trials even as we resolve to tune them to praise the God whose Word never fails and has promised to finish His work in us by the restoration of all things. These are the songs we sing at Advent—texts that point to Christ’s first coming but serve to remind us in our present sufferings to continue looking for His promised return. We wait with expectant hope that will not disappoint.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in darkness a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness form that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:2; 6-7)

“God sent His Son in a human body just like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” (Romans 8:3)

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, we also groan to be released from pain and suffering. Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. For if you already have something, you don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently.” (Romans 8:22-25)