A number of years ago I attended a live production of the old musical Godspell. I’ll always remember the moment that started the play as the lights dimmed and the audience hushed into that expectant silence. Suddenly from the darkness a single voice burst forth in song from the back of the house. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” It was John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. As we all looked behind us to see where the voice was coming from the whole cast joined the song and came up, one by one, onto the stage, singing: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” A joyful celebration ensued, with laughter and play. The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and JOY in the Holy Spirit! as another song proclaims.
Waiting in the dark, only to hear an exuberant voice of invitation to the full manifestation of the Reign of God—this is what the season of Advent is all about. It’s a time of hopeful longing for Christ to come—in majesty and glory at the end of time to bring justice and renew creation, in spirit and power to our hearts today, and in the vulnerable flesh of a newborn baby at Christmas.
Of these three comings the most important, historically, is Christ’s arrival at the end of time. Advent has been for centuries a time to ponder our mortality and let that be a spur to embrace what is good, true, and beautiful in the present moment. We think of the coming of the ruler of the universe and we prepare for Christ’s arrival by working to make the world right today.
For the past few years one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how short the season of Advent is. Just four Sundays and usually less than four complete weeks to enjoy the beautiful blue colors of the paraments, sing all those majestic hymns, and truly enter in to a spirit of quiet watchfulness for the signs of God’s inbreaking reign! This is very difficult—especially amidst the cultural pressures of December to get busy with our holiday preparations. Where the church invites us into an introspective, quiet time of spiritual preparation, the world demands we extravert, busying ourselves with noisy shopping, sociable entertaining, and fancy decorating. As a season of prayer and quiet, Advent, at just four Sundays, is just too short!
But it could be longer.
In fact, in certain periods of history Advent was longer. “St. Martin’s Lent” they used to call it in medieval France because it began the day after Martin of Tours’ feast day, November 11. To this day some churches practice a six- or seven-week Advent. So the question I’ve been wondering about is: why not here at Hope too?
Last year in my Doctor of Worship Studies degree I made a study of the season of Advent – its historical development, theological themes, and contemporary practice. I shared the fruits of that study with the Worship and Music committee and Council. The result is that we’d like to give it a try this year to practice an extended season of Advent – seven Sundays in length instead of four.
To have seven Sundays of Advent will help us enter more deeply into the spirit of the season by extending our reflections on “last things” and the coming of Christ through the month of November. As a way to help focus our hearts and minds, we plan to dedicate each Sunday of the season to one of the titles of Christ that are celebrated in each verse of the classic hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We’ll create an evergreen wreath with seven beautiful candles, letting the light grow for longer, and end by being even brighter on the last of the seven Sundays. Maybe you can think of additional ways to mark an extended season of Advent. I’d love to hear them.
This year it works out that our seven-Sunday season will start on November 8. I suspect that with the world out of joint as it has been this past year we will feel the Advent longing for a world made right even more keenly than ever before.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!