When we first made Advent08, this was the information that accompanied the App (kind of like a FAQ I suppose, but without questions!) I am posting it here because it still has a lot of good information about Advent and the devotions (and their assumptions) themselves.
ABOUT THE CALENDAR
The church calendar, in the Western Tradition, is broken into up into different times, each with their seasons and major/minor festivals. Understanding that there are minor variations among traditions, a basic division would include:
The Time of Christmas:
Advent, Christmas and Epiphany
The Time of Easter:
Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost
The Time of the Church:
The Season after Pentecost
Time can be spoken of in a different way in this context as well: High Time and Ordinary Time. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter as a whole are about the life and ministry of Christ. Pentecost is some how the bridge between our Lord’s ministry and our own, when after His ascension, He sends the Holy Spirit to continue God’s Mission (Missio Dei) among us here on earth. These are the Highest times, Festival Times, filled with the most important festivals in the liturgical life of the church. Here the liturgical colors are plentiful, and their meanings ripe with metaphor and analogy.
Ordinary Time, Epiphany and Pentecost, take up the majority of the church year. Both of their colors are green. The emphasis changes from Christ’s life and work to our lives and His work in and through us. While Epiphany includes the Baptism of our Lord, it begins with God’s revelation of Himself to the gentiles, which is better remembered by the trip of the three magi to visit the infant Jesus.
The Colors of Advent
Advent is the beginning of the church year. The beginning of the never ending cycle of God’s self-revelation and our response. Its colors are purple or blue; and while there is much history behind the shift between the historic uses of the colors and the reasons for doing so, what is more important here is what each color implies.
Purple Advent is the oldest of the two, and like Lent where the color is also purple, it implies a penitential season. A color of royalty, purple dies in ancient time were always the most costly. That Christ’s royalty led Him to suffer and to die for all our sins is the first indication that God’s wisdom is not our own. A purple Advent is one filled with prophecy about God’s righteousness calling into judgment the sinfulness of His people, and indeed, all the world. A purple Advent looks towards repentance, not unlike the ministry of John the Baptist who called many to repent and be baptized. A purple Advent is also a time of fasting for many, especially in the Eastern Tradition.
Blue Advent is newer and in part was a way to distinguish Advent from Lent. A blue Advent has other subtle distinctions as it focuses on the anticipation of the birth of the long promised Salvation of God in the same prophecies mentioned above. It looks forward with joy and sobriety the coming of Jesus, Word made flesh, to save God’s people from their sin. Included here is the notion that this salvation was not for the Jewish community alone, but for all peoples upon the earth. As is explained in greater detail in the section About the Devotions, this particular Advent Calendar is a hybrid of both a purple and blue Advent.
Daily devotional practices are wide and varied, and at the end of the day, quite personal. This Advent Calendar is designed to be used as it best fits. It is not a replacement for church, nor is it wise to see it that way. That said, it is a way to help prepare for the coming of Jesus to live among us. What will follow are some technical notes on the contents of the daily devotions themselves, as well as, some suggestions on how to get the most out of this tool and how to make the most out of this preparatory season.
A Brief Introduction to Liturgical Logic
These devotions have been structured according a liturgical theology and logic. The word liturgy seems to be associated with many things and becomes ambiguous. Let it here refer to more than just the structure and layout of the contents of each day. While most specifically liturgy is the public service, or the worship life of the church in all her seasons, customs, festivals and theology; that is not entirely on par with an individual holding an iPhone/iPod, or a few individuals together huddled around said iPhone/iPod. This is not a replacement of Christ’s people gathered together in life and fellowship together. It does assume, on the other hand, sacramental theology, liturgical theology, high Christology and the like. This devotional series is designed to carry these larger themes of faith and time to be incorporated by individuals into their own faith habits and practices; all while assuming the reality of busy schedules each faces where preparing for Christ’s coming is all too hurried and out of sync. Enough with the theological banter then, hopefully enough has been said to show the author’s/compiler’s bias and assumptions to the end user.
A rubric is simple a way of sectioning off a service/devotional into parts with suggestions of what to do and when to do them. Four important ones need to be explained here.
The first is the use of this, , symbol. It is a liturgical cross and indicates a place where you are invited to cross yourself. It always precedes “the Son,” or some other reference to Jesus (the Second Person of the Trinity) in a Trinitarian formula. Like the invocation which begins the twenty-four daily devotions. To cross yourself is not required, it is suggested and practiced by many. If you never have and do not feel comfortable, simply abstain. If you never have and would like to try then do by pinching (don’t need to really “pinch”) your thumb, index and middle fingers together and placing them on your forehead, then drop your hand toward your navel, proceed to either right or left (there is a different custom here among churches, do what is common to you or most comfortable) and then finish on the other shoulder.
The second is sectioned off (in brackets.) This is an optional prayer if you are using an Advent Wreath. Combining the devotions and the wreath together, especially in the evening, are an excellent way of preparing for Christmas Eve. It is not required by any means, especially if five minutes here or there in a busy week is all you have. The prayer may certainly be said without the use of a wreath.
The third is about the section headings that divide the devotion have been added for your convenience. They are easy to identify while quickly scrolling through the contents of each day. Again, this is a tool, use it as you will; even if that is merely reading the Scripture for each day, or spreading the contents out throughout the day, or revisiting something that was of particular challenge/interest to you.
The fourth is about six specific places within the full contents of the twenty five devotions, three of which are on Christmas Eve alone, where you are invited to take a moment of devotional silence. Again, this is not any kind of requirement, it is a suggestion. Its length is up to you. How long should it last? At least until you get beyond the feeling that it is taking too long!
The use of and Advent Wreath is an old custom. A traditional wreath is made up of evergreens, is circular and incorporates four candles, three purple and one pink. Modern “wreaths” can be as simple as four candles, sometimes placed on a tray or just about anything else imaginable. The importance of the one odd colored candle is that it is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 14th, which is known as Gaudete Sunday that marks the mid point of Advent. The four Sundays of Advent are marked in different colors on the Calendar itself, with Gaudete Sunday distinguished by its color. An additional candle is lit each week until all are four are in use in the final days of Advent. This is another way of preparing for Christmas, and if you have never used one, consider giving it a try.
Preparing for Advent and Christmas
There are many things that you can do to prepare for Advent itself. Some simple suggestions would include purchasing Handel’s Messiah and/or loading onto your iPhone/iPod. Making an Advent Wreath, or gathering its ingredients in advance, so that it can be made and/or lit on the First Sunday in Advent. Finally, make a plan and stick to it about using the Calendar and/or attending local Advent Services at your church.
Advent is about preparation. The more that you can do to set apart some of this time and make it special, then the more special will Christ’s arrival at Christmas seem to be. Beyond prayer and devotions, church services and music, even putting out Christmas decorations can help to focus our attention on the change in time and focus. Be deliberate, and if you have not, start deliberate traditions.
ABOUT THE DEVOTIONS
There are two overarching themes that are worth highlighting independently of the specific weekly themes themselves. The devotions are written using language that assumes this Advent Calendar to mark out a journey in time from the first day to the last day of Advent. The meditations of the first, second and fourth Sundays are about silence, the same silence that seems to be an attribute of our Hidden God at times.
While the Calendar posts signs and highlights sights along the way, it is the Holy Spirit working through the Scripture who is the true guide. Such journeys should not be taken alone, but in the company of believers. Such journeys are personal and unique. The Lord bless you on your journey.
The First Week of Advent (Purple)
Themes for the first week of Advent are historically centered on the return of Christ on the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord. Here themes are of Israel’s coming exile, the righteousness of God in contrast to humanity’s unrighteousness, judgment, calls to repentance and wrath. Chances are this week will feel dark and heavy. Facing God in His glory is to face every hidden sin and inadequacy; ultimately despairing of death.
To be sure there is an ambiguous line between the first and second Advents of our Lord. Calls of warning to Israel before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities often find resonance in modern life. Notice in this week, however, there is always the hint that God delays His final judgment. Why is that? Before wrath and judgment come, Christ must come. Before God reveals Himself on the last day, all sin is taken upon His shoulders and He bears in His flesh the greatest of all judgments. The time between that judgment on the cross and the wrath that Jesus endured and the promised final day of judgment is filled with tension for God’s children who believe and are forgiven, yet are sinners just the same. There is friction between these two positions in the life of the Christian, that is the tension of Week 1.
The Second Week of Advent (Purple)
From the turmoil of the first week subsides into the comfort of the second week. It is mercy that causes God to stay His final judgment. Out of that mercy come God’s great promises to deliver His people. If the first week drives us to confess our sins it is the second week that drives us to God alone for help. The themes are of comfort, hope, absolution, forgiveness freely given by God, reconciliation and a re-framing of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord as the coming of God’s eternal Kingdom and the life of His children in His presence, face to face.
There is still a soberness to Week 2. Not all of the tensions are released, but they are different than those of the first; for they are born out of hope of what is to come and not the fear of it. The call at the end of this Purple Advent is be prepared and to trust in the Promises of God.
The Third Week of Advent (Blue)
There is a decided shift beginning with Gaudete Sunday. Once it is clear that God’s Promise will drive the tenor of salvation the themes turn to anticipation and joy. The pace picks as the time to Christmas Eve shortens. In the second half of the week the great O Antiphons of antiquity dominate the prayers, forcing the merger in themes between weeks 3 and 4.
Another noticeable difference is that Isaiah, who dominates the first two weeks, is weaned out in favor of New Testament texts; in particular those of Luke. Now that God’s Laws and Promises have taken hold and begun to do their work, the ultimate promise of the coming Messiah in Jesus Christ, and in His life and work the foundation of the Gospel, begin coming into view.
The Fourth Week of Advent (Blue)
The weekly reflection between weeks is paused between the final too as anticipation turns immediately into supplication in the form of the O Antiphons. The fourth week is purely about the ongoing call of God’s people “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” The final reflection occurs on the last day in Advent, and it is an invitation to prepare for the following Holy Night.
Christmas Eve (White)
Christmas Eve is included in the Calendar, though technically it is not part of Advent. This is the night towards which the Calendar is pointing and preparing. While Christmas Eve’s liturgical color is white, the devotion beneath number 25 is really an address of the themes, both purple and blue, that have developed over the four weeks of Advent. The style and structure of the devotion change to acknowledge, and finally address, the theme of silence, and how God broke His silence on the first Silent Night.
ABOUT THE SCRIPTURES
There are many lectionaries, which is nothing more than a list of what pericopes (readings) fall on what days. For the sake of unity among the traditions the Revised Common Lectionary has been used for the making of this Calendar. Specifically those for Year B in the three year cycle. Most of the readings come out in the course of any given week, with complimentary texts selected to fill in the gaps. The only major deviation of any note is for the final seven days, where Luke’s Gospel has been adopted.
Source of Scriptural Translation
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE IMAGES
The images used are all in the Public Domain. The images are cropped as they are incorporated into the daily devotions. The full image may be viewed by simply touching the picture. More information for the images can be found behind information button in the full view.
The images were selected carefully and with intent to help shed light on the day’s themes. The rational behind the choices will not be disclosed in favor of letting the reader come to their own conclusions.
ABOUT THE THEOLOGY
Every attempt has been made to create a devotional tool that speaks of the Christian faith in as universal a way as possible. Accordingly, this Calendar is not a personal expression of any particular piety with a hidden agenda. Rather it is based on an understanding of God’s self-revelation in accordance with the classic symbols of the church: the Apostolic, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. With that comes a high Christology concerning the two natures of Christ, both God and man, yet one person; who is the Second Person of the Trinity. One Lord, one Christ, who has two natures which are still not confused.
The Scriptures were sought out and used as the only source and norm of the Christian faith. However, the inevitable consequence of anyone writing something like this, especially in the text of the prayers, is that the faith of the writer has also shaped the use of language. Much of theology at the end of the day is a kind of language; almost a grammar. Accordingly a few of the hermeneutical assumptions of the author will be laid out briefly.
The devotions were compiled and written by a Lutheran pastor. Lutheran assumptions inevitably exist in the work. Chief among them are the distinction between God’s Laws and Promises. This is a more arcane way of saying Law and Gospel as understood within Confessional Lutheranism. That is, simply put, all scripture can be broken up into these two categories. God’s Law shows each of their sins and calls each into a repentant relationship with Him. With the Law there is no salvation. The Gospel narrowly spoken of is Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Broadly it is the sum total of the Promises of God, in particular about the good news of salvation to fallen humanity. Salvation is by grace through faith alone.
Lutherans are also famous for our use of paradox. Notice the themes of tension. A Righteous God in a tumultuous relationship with unrighteous humanity. A forgiving God who makes His people into a royal priesthood. The tension between these points is at times intense, and I personally believe, irresolvable in this life. Rather it is always out there, and for Luther’s habitus, that is his practiced spiritual discipline and its subsequent manifestation in his life, the tentatio (tension) of life was always balanced out with, struggled with and worked out with oratio (prayer) and meditatio (scriptural reflection). This dynamic is clear in the devotion, for instance, for Christmas Eve.
Finally and understanding of the Christian life understood sacramentally has been employed. What does that mean? Specifically, God works through Word and Sacrament in the lives of His children. This clearly influences the use of Scripture and calling attention to baptism.