Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”) is considered to be the beginning of the Christian Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. This season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30. Advent ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve occurs on a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown. We find ourselves as liturgical theologians and practitioners tasked with the awesome responsibility of countless worship experiences, Christmas concerts, cantatas, and plays. In today’s spiritual and political climate what will our work say this year about Jesus? For those in the Western Christian tradition Advent is the season that seems to engender the warmest feelings associated with the person and work of Jesus. There is something so full of hope and promise connected to the babe in the manger who would one day be Savior of the world.
This year I would like to invite us to share in the rich liturgical opportunity that Advent offers us as we consider the facts surrounding the birth of this Jesus who is the Christ. Luke’s gospel does an amazing job of situating Jesus’ birth within the historical world of the Roman Empire (Hartin 2011). Born under the rule of Augustus Caesar it is clear that Jesus is born on the underside of power. Luke’s narrative also explains the sacrifice offered at the time of Jesus temple dedication; it indicates that Jesus was born a poor Palestinian Jew living under Roman authority. His parents were forced to use doves and pigeons for an offering because they could not afford the sacrifice of the lamb. Not only was Jesus born experiencing poverty, but that poverty was public (Thurman 1996 (original 1949)). Perhaps the circumstances of Jesus’ birth informed much of the resistance work he would engage throughout His life?
I wonder if this year in our Advent celebrations we might consider those among us who are experiencing the effects of poverty and how we might hold space for lamenting the ways in which our churches may have been complicit in creating poverty for others? What if we took seriously the opportunity to be in solidarity with those people in our global community who for whatever reason live in an occupied land, struggling to maintain their cultural identity? How could our worship experiences treasure differences and yet find commonalities by pointing to the central figure of our faith to understand how he experienced embodiment (Wilkey 2014)?
My prayer for each of you this Advent is that the gathering, shared meal, shared story, and all that makes your liturgy rich may come alive with the historical Jesus; that we may together find the truth in our tradition and have the courage to be true to the truth. Happy Advent!
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
Hartin, Patrick J. 2011. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.
Thurman, Howard. 1996 (original 1949). Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.
Wilkey, Glaucia Vasconcelos. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland? Grand Rapids : William B Eerdmans Publishing.