It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas – Except It Isn't.
By the Very Rev. John Burwell, Rector, Church of the Redeemer, Orangeburg (This article was written the first week of Advent)
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go.
Except it isn’t. In the Church, this is not the Christmas season. This is the Season of Advent.
So, why don't we just go ahead and celebrate Christmas in November like the rest of the world? To be sure, some of us do (Full disclosure: The Burwell Christmas tree has always gone up on the first Sunday in Advent!). But from the beginning the Church divided the calendar year into the segments we call Seasons. Why? Because life has a definite seasonal quality to it and like life each Church Season has its own unique characteristics. Each Church Season aptly reflects the period of the year covered by it.
We begin the Church year four weeks before Christmas with the Season of Advent. Advent ("Adventus" in the Latin) literally means “coming,” and the Season of Advent is a time of two-fold preparation for the Church. We prepare for Christ’s coming into the world at Christmas and His coming again at the end of time. Last Sunday (1 Advent) we focused on Christ’s second coming [Click or tap here]. This Sunday we'll hear John the Baptist proclaim the good news of the coming Savior. We’re getting ready for what is to come.
The Season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and continues for a total of twelve days. This is the time frame sung about in the seasonal song, The 12 Days of Christmas. Christmas Season is followed by the Season of Epiphany, the Season of Lent, the Season of Easter, and the Season after Pentecost. So in the Church, it's not Christmas just yet. We are currently in the Season of Advent.
While we don't have our Redeemer Christmas decorations up, we do have our Advent wreath out. We lit one candle last Sunday and we will light the second candle this coming Sunday (2 Advent). The third candle gets lit on the third Sunday in Advent, the fourth on the fourth, and it will all culminate on Christmas Eve when we light the white candle in the center of the wreath at the conclusion of our service and we celebrate the birth of Christ and the start of the real Christmas Season.
Feel free to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Just remember: Right now, it’s Advent. I hope you will enjoy the preparation time that is Advent and use it to get even closer to God this December.
Stepping Back and Making the “Main Thing the Main Thing” this Advent and Christmas
By The Rev. Bill Oldland, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville (the following is reprinted from St. Bartholomew’s newsletter)
The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany will soon be upon us. In fact, Christmas decorations started appearing in the stores shortly after Halloween. I believe it won’t be long before the displays will appear right after Labor Day. My concern for us, as Christians, is that we will be increasingly and subtly drawn into the secular meaning of this time of year. After all, it is very difficult to see the advertisements of gifts and the pictures of Santa Claus, and remain focused on the true purpose of these two important seasons in the church year.
Of course, we know that Advent is a time of preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus Christ again. Christmas is the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birthday. We also know that Epiphany is the celebration of the coming of the Magi to offer their gifts to the Christ child. How do we maintain our focus on these two important events when the world doesn’t want us to remember them at all?
Just recently, I read an article where a town wanted to change the name of the season from Christmas Break to Winter Holiday. When I was in seminary, the school district of Falls Church created a calendar for the month of December. On the calendar they had listed the dates for Kwanzaa and Hanukah. On the 25th of December, they had nothing noted. Christmas day was completely vacant as being a religious celebration even though other observances were noted. Are these purposeful removals and changes? Are they oversights by someone setting a calendar? Is it simply that the secularization of Christmas has overshadowed the true meaning of these days? I don’t know if I have the answer to those questions.
However, I do know that we can make these days important within our Christian lives. Here are just a few ways that we can keep the true meaning of these days alive in our hearts.
• Take time to read a devotional. We have purchased devotionals for the Advent season. They are found in the back of the church. Each day’s reading will take five to ten minutes. Use this time to prepare one’s self for the birth of Jesus and his recognition as the king of Kings by the Magi.
• In place of giving presents, some families have begun to give contributions to helping organizations in the names of family members. This particular practice helps in various ways. First of all, it helps others who are in need. Secondly, it keeps everyone mindful of the needs of others during this time of the year. Finally, it is a way to show someone you care about them and the spirit they have in caring for others.
• Volunteer some time at a soup kitchen, food pantry, or other assisting organization. One of the most precious commodities we have is time. During these seasons of the year, the intensity of business seems to grow exponentially. In fact, one can become so busy that one can feel overwhelmed. The way to combat this insane business is to step back from the secular need to have everything in order and correct for the holidays. Instead take some time to address the needs of others creating space for them in your own hearts. In that way, the light of Christ within you is shared with someone else.
• Finally, take a step back from the secular world of gifts and Santa Claus. Years ago, I saw a Christmas card in a Christian catalog. The scene was a view from above of the manger where Christ is born. One can see Mary, Joseph, the Christ child, and the shepherds below. On top of the manger was a cross (just a little early in the Gospel story), and hanging onto the cross looking down on the scene below was Santa Claus. Really!?! Combining the concepts of Santa Claus and the birth of Jesus Christ is the epitome of secularizing the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. It is important for us to, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.”
What is the main thing? We as Christians recognize that we have received the greatest gift the world has and ever will receive, Jesus Christ. Through his birth, death and resurrection we have seen the vision of the Incarnate God among us. If we want to see the Father we look at Jesus Christ. We have received the fullness of God’s grace and redemption through his death and resurrection. When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate his birth, his death, and his resurrection.
Through the season of Epiphany we understand who can receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. It is open to everyone. The magi were not Hebrews; they were gentiles. The salvation offered through Christ is available to all. We have to remember that everyone we meet is a child of God, loved by Christ and able to receive God’s redemption and grace. Finally, as we celebrate the season of Advent, we remember Jesus’ promise that he will come again. This world is not the end. It is our home for a time; a season. Jesus will come again. Advent reminds us that we are to look for him at any time. We are to be prepared for that great and glorious day. We prepare ourselves not with trees, brightly wrapped packages and images of Santa Claus. We prepare ourselves by opening our hearts to God and to one another.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I like Christmas trees. I love presents. I can Ho, Ho, Ho, with the best of them. It is so important for us to remember what these seasons are truly about in our Christian walk. It is about what God has done for us and how we can share God’s redemptive love with others.
Have a prayerful Advent, a glorious Christmas, and an enlightening Epiphany!!!
The Peace of God be present within us,
From the Pastor's Pen
By The Rev. Chris Warner, Rector of Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island, Daniel Island and Ion
“The Lord is near to all who call on him” (Psalm 145:18a).
God is not as far away as the furthest star. He’s as close as your next heartbeat. He’s right there with you every moment. He is Immanuel which means “God with us.” The Bible says in Acts 17:27, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (NIV).
During this season leading up to Christmas, people all around you are wondering if God is available and if he cares. Is he accessible? Can he be known? The answer is Yes, yes, yes, and yes!
Right now, hearts are open to God. People are wondering about Him because the culture is focused on Christmas. We may lament the crass commercialization and the cultural confusion about reindeer and elves and such things. But the fact is, now is a perfect time to help those you know - neighbors, friends or co-workers - take a step toward Christ. This season offers one of the main times when people will actually come to church — if they are invited.
But here’s a tip to inviting people so that they won’t get cold feet at the last minute. Ask them if you can pick them up. Or offer to meet them in the lobby (don’t call it a Narthex!) so that you can sit together. Then offer to go out to eat together after the service and while you’re eating engage them in conversation about the message they heard and what they think. You’ll be amazed because you’ll discover that God is with you in the middle of it all.
Over the next week, we have a host of opportunities to help you worship - and reach out to others. Along with our usual outstanding Sunday services we offer the following unique opportunities for inviting people. On Sunday the 18th at Sullivan’s Island 11am, we present our beautiful Advent Lessons and Carols service. Then at 4pm we offer a Children’s Nativity service at both Sullivan’s Island and Daniel Island campuses. All children are welcome to participate in these services.
On Christmas Eve we offer a whole host of worship options (see them here). Finally on, Christmas Day we offer two services - one at Daniel Island and one at Sullivan’s Island and both at 10am.
The Lord is near! Let’s worship him in the beauty of holiness and help others to know him this Christmas.
A Message From Father Tom
By The Rev. Tom Hendrickson, Rector of The Historic Church of the Epiphany, Eutawville
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: "Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test."
(Isaiah 7:10-12 ESV)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When I read this verse about Ahaz and his refusal to ask the Lord for a sign, I confess I am a little perplexed by the response he gets from the prophet. Surely Ahaz is being humble and remembering his Scripture that says you should not put the Lord to a test, or perhaps not. Perhaps he just doesn't believe God will respond to him in a way that makes sense or conforms to his understanding of how God should behave. This side of glory we will never know the answer, but what is clear is that with or without Ahaz God is going to accomplish what he wants. His will will be done. God has a plan to reveal himself to humanity and he will accomplish his goal. His desire is to have a written record for us to see that he is faithful and can be trusted in the most simple and complex ways imaginable. This develops our trust and confidence in the Lord in our own time and place, and helps us to share that confidence with others. As Christians we believe that this prophecy is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus and is further proof that God is continuing to reveal himself to mankind. It is through Jesus that we learn that our sins are forgiven and that a way is opened for relationship with our heavenly Father. It is through Jesus that we learn that peace is possible on earth when there seems to be so much chaos and unrest. We come to understand that Jesus will always be with us and never forsake us no matter what we are going through and that in the final reckoning we will be with him in glory forever. The Christmas story is one of incredible hope for the future and strength for today, and we all need both of these to live our lives in conformance with our Lord's desires.
Walk with the King, and be a blessing