If you attend Church of the Resurrection on the first Sunday of Advent, odds are that a few notable things will strike you. For one, you’re likely to hear congregants cheerfully greeting each other with the words “Happy New Year!” even though it is still November. Upon entering the sanctuary, you will find the altar, stage, and clergy robed in purple, a welcome change from the twenty-some weeks of green-colored robes that have marked the long season of “after Pentecost” Sundays. Finally, you’ll notice subtle changes in the music and liturgy, including the service being opened with the somber and beautiful song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
These physical and verbal cues are markers of the fact that Advent is the beginning of the liturgical calendar year. This calendar is a tool that the Christian church has used for millennia to establish a sacred daily rhythm, in which the life of Christ is as important as the changing of the months. Thus, the “happy new year” greetings are not a joke, but rather the acknowledgment that Advent invites us into the Biblical anticipation of Jesus’ life on earth, and thus the beginning of our walk through his life in the seasons of Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, and Eastertide.
The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” Yet Advent readings do not solely focus on prophesies of the arrival of the Christ child in Bethlehem, but also scripture in which Jesus’ second coming is foretold. This is because the liturgical calendar is not simply convenient way in which to commemorate Jesus’ life, but instead an active tool for our daily spiritual formation. We rejoice in the fact that the God of the universe chose a moment in history to take on a human body and walk among us, but also that the Bible promises that Jesus is active by the power of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and that he will physically come again to judge the living and the dead.
This is why the color purple is the color of both Advent and Lent. Advent is like being told that you’re going to have a very important house guest, but their specific date of arrival is unknown. The natural thing to do is start cleaning your house so that when they do arrive, your house is not a mess! In Advent, we do our spiritual house cleaning both in preparation of the joy of Christmas day, but also in the joyful expectation that Jesus is coming back. The song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” captures this reality, as it speaks to the longing of our hearts for Jesus to come again even as we rejoice in the promise that he will.
So it is that we celebrate four weeks of Advent before we jump into the joy of Christmastide, even as we pray this collect on the first Sunday of Advent:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.