I was asked to offer some thoughts on why it is good to worship during Advent. This post was originally written for the First Third blog from Luther Seminary, as part of a series they are putting together for church leaders during Advent. You can either see the post in its original form, or read it below. I share this here on my own blog with their permission, and I thank them for the opportunity to write, ponder, and explore alongside them.
Image Credit: Advent Wreath by Chris Wolff on Flickr
Why Worship During Advent
The Centrality of Worship
Worship is central to the church’s practice and understanding of who it is. We worship to praise and give thanks to God. In worship we join together as the Body of Christ in song and the Word. We remember God’s promises and receive God’s promise of forgiveness and reconciliation.
It’s important to worship in Advent as it is throughout the year. Advent, though, is a particular season where we are given opportunity to reflect deeply on what it means to “prepare” and “be made ready.” Advent serves the dual purpose of remembering, preparing, and awaiting the birth of the coming Messiah as well as for the return of the Son of Man. In the readings appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary during Advent we hear these themes through the lens of the prophets (especially Isaiah) and the gospel writers.
Some congregations within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have begun to use Advent as an opportunity to worship more. These congregations have intentionally used Wednesday evenings during Advent like during Lent. If you have the opportunity to worship on Wednesdays, I recommend it. (Marty Haugen’s “Holden Evening Prayer” is a particularly nice setting for mid-week Advent worship as the texts are primarily ones we read during Advent.)
A Time of Reflection and Questioning
Advent worship is special as it provides calls to reflect, wake up, and to be mindful. This is important when the world around us spins faster daily. We live in a world of instantaneous change. Change happens faster with the world at our fingertips on our smartphones and other devices. It’s harder than ever for us to take time to center, breathe, and be mindful of the world around us. Add in the self-induced stress we allow ourselves to be caught up in with all things related to shopping for Christmas presents, listening to commercials tell us “we don’t have enough,” and not having enough time to spend centering while busy on the run from one event to another, and it’s easy to see why worship during Advent is important.
Besides a time for reflection, Advent allows the church goer to question. Questioning is good. Wrestling with questions is good. It’s not always easy, but it makes the walk of faith far more meaningful and richer. In Advent, we are able to directly ponder what God’s promises mean and how they affect us. What does it mean for us today in 2013, that God is with us, “Immanuel?”
A Time of Learning and Anticipation
Many believe that Advent is about being counter-cultural or taking a stand in opposition to what popular culture seems to suggest. There is value in this. However, one of the long standing practices to distinguish Advent from Christmas within many mainline congregations has been to refrain from using Christmas carols and hymns during the season of Advent. I used to be a firm believer in this. However, I have seen firsthand fewer and fewer of today’s children, important parts of the Body of Christ, no longer familiar with the meaning or melodies of such important hymns like “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger.” These hymns are not taught or used in popular culture like they used to be. Perhaps it’s time to take a missional step and reevaluate what this means? Might there be a way to integrate and teach some of the great music of Christmas within Advent and compliment the good music and themes of Advent as well?
The important thing about worship in Advent is that you take the time to worship in Advent- “to prepare” and “make straight your paths.” What that worship looks like isn’t all that important. When we light the candles of the Advent Wreath to mark each Sunday as we journey together in worship, we are again reminded of God’s promises and centered in the hope and anticipation of the fulfillment of those promises.