Why Is Observing Advent Important for Our Spiritual Lives?

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Why Is Observing Advent Important for Our Spiritual Lives?

Happy New Year!

This probably seems like an odd thing to write, given we have barely cracked the opening of December. Wouldn’t such a proclamation be more appropriate next month? Why declare the beginning of a new year so early?  The reason is simple: Advent is upon us. For the body of Christ, the new year doesn’t begin in January, but at the dawn of Advent.

Advent is the first season of the church’s liturgical year, which begins roughly four weeks prior to Christmas. Due to the prevalence of “Advent calendars,” however, the season is commonly thought to be nothing more than a time to anticipate Christmas morning. This, however, is not strictly correct. Advent has a much more robust focus. In fact, rather than centering on the babe in the manger, Advent calls us to look for the King who comes upon the clouds (Matthew 26:64)

As the beginning of a new-year faith journey, Advent sets the course for our Christian life and witness. Observing Advent, therefore, can be life-giving and transformative. If you have never taken an intentional walk through this season, here are three reasons why observing Advent is important for our spiritual lives.

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1. Advent Recalibrates Our Lives

Woman following an arrow pointing up the road

The Church has never run its life by the civic calendar; it has always adopted an alternative schedule of seasons and holy days. Such seasons govern the life and worship of God’s people. Thus, the season of Advent may appear odd and out of place; we may even question whether there is usefulness in observing the seasons of the church.

There is an important lesson in the “out-of-placeness” of this season. Advent reminds us that we are called to live as aliens in this world, out of step with the ways and systems that surround us. While the world runs in break-neck speed to Christmas, Advent calls us to slowly walk in reflection and prayer. While the world becomes filled with Christmas carols and commercial jingles, Advent asks us to hear the proclamation that “to us has been born a savior” (Luke 2:11). Observing the season of Advent becomes a way where we fully embrace the biblical call to be in the world, but not of it (John 17:14).  

Advent, therefore, holds a corrective function. It highlights our need to be steadfast in our faith. The fact is the temptation to follow the ways of this world can be quite overwhelming at times. The deluge of commercialism declares to us that our value, and identity, are rooted in the trinkets we own, and the newest gadgets we buy. This temptation is strongest in the month prior to Christmas. Advent calls us back to a faithful understating of our lives, our selves, and our calling in this world. As God’s people, we are to live differently. Observing advent is transformative precisely because it roots us in our life with God, not our life within the world.

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2. Advent Articulates Our Longing

Woman sitting on her windowsill waiting

The world around us views the month before Christmas as a time of excitement and celebration.  It is a time to decorate, bake, and most of all, shop. As we have noted, Advent runs in a different direction.  Rather than a time of busy celebration, the season of Advent is a time of longing, waiting, and expectation. The slowness of the season gives us time to reflect on our cry for redemption and healing.  

Historically, the season of Advent was a penitential season, more akin to Lent than Christmas.  It was a time where Christians were invited to a voice their need for redemption, forgiveness, and new life. Thus, the Church would read Scriptures pertaining to the great separation of the sheep and goats, the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 25:32).  Depictions of Christ as righteous judge, rather than helpless baby, was the central image for the season.    

Take the well-known hymn “O come O come Emmanuel” as case in point.  In one verse we sing:

“O come, O rod of Jesse’s stem

from every foe deliver them; 

that trust your mighty power to save, 

and give them victory o’er the grave.”

Although we often refer to this hymn as a “Christmas carol,” it is more aptly placed in Advent. The hymn calls out for the savior to come and ransom a world still struggling with sin and death. The call for God to be with us, therefore, isn’t a lullaby for a coming baby, it is a cry for liberation. Even today, we call out to Christ to come and restore us. 

Advent never masks the weariness of our souls, or the struggles of our lives. In fact, liturgically speaking, Advent is the season that allows us to voice these things to God. Yet, in voicing our longings and laments, we create space to hear God’s promises, realized in the coming of Christ. Christ is the divine response to our need for redemption. Thus, even in our longing, we hear the message of hope and renewal

As you walk through the season of Advent, ask yourself: Where do you cry out for redemption? What are the deepest felt needs in your life? Our walk with Christ is only strengthened when we take the time to realize our need for healing, forgiveness, and grace. It is only then that we may truly embrace him as the full satisfaction for our lives.

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3. Advent Is Apocalyptic

Sign that says beginning and end

The season of Advent is a time where we embrace and the full story of our redemption. While we do recognize our journey to the manger, and the approaching celebration of Christmas, Advent carries an apocalyptic focus. We anticipate Christ’s coming in triumph; We look forward and not backwards. 

We often associate apocalypticism as pertaining to topics such as damnation, judgement, and wrath. The end times appears dark and dreary, a day to be feared.  For Christian, however, apocalypticism is but a revealing of our salvation. Christ return is a day upon which we will “raise our heads for our redemption draws near: (Luke 21:28). We await the coming of Christ, not out of fear, but in hopeful anticipation for the full realization of his Kingdom.  Thus, Advent calls us to boldly hold on to, and proclaim, the message of salvation.  

Over the years, the church has cultivated the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love, as the main themes for Advent. Hope springs from knowing that the light of God shines upon the very place of our need. Peace comes from knowing that Christ has reconciled all things to himself, making peace through the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20). Joy comes from knowing our cries for redemption do not go unheard. And, most of all, God’s love for us, and for this world, is revealed in Jesus Christ.  

Advent heralds the good news found in Jesus Christ. As we look to the Christ’s second coming in the future, we reflect on our Christian walk in the present. We are to live as redeemed people, reflecting the presence of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Advent, therefore, calls us embrace the places wherein the spirit calls us to step out in faith and ministry.  

Conclusion

Observing the season of Advent doesn’t mean that you can’t be excited for Christmas. It doesn’t mean that you can’t plan a Christmas party and enjoy shopping for that perfect gift. Advent simply calls us to put these things in correct perspective.   As Christian people, we are called to recognize that our satisfaction in life comes not from what can be wrapped under a tree, but he who was wrapped in a manger. Advent heralds a time to deepen our faithful allegiance to Jesus, and his call upon our lives.

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SWN authorThe Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada.  He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.comibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others.  He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca.  He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.