We are already one full week into the last month of 2012. Though it may sound cliché, where has the year gone? We have also launched into the largest celebration around the world each year.
Other holidays may get a day, but Christmas is celebrated for an entire month. We tend to do things this time of year that we would not normally do: bring trees from outside our homes and place them inside our homes, and take lights from inside our homes and place them outside our homes. The music on the radio and the programs on the television are now Christmas-themed. Christmas parties need planning and Christmas presents need to be purchased.
When Christmas comes, you can't miss it. It's everywhere.
For many of our church families here in Lodi, the Christmas season is also a time to celebrate the Advent Season, which began Dec. 2 and ends on Dec. 24.
In my own church fellowship, we have not traditionally celebrated or observed the Advent season as some other churches do. In fact, before I went to seminary, I had never even heard of Advent. If you, like me, are not familiar with the Christian holiday of Advent; here's some history for you:
Within 300 or 400 years after Christ, many Christians set aside an Advent season as a time for fasting, reflection and penitence to prepare for Epiphany, a day celebrating Christ's "epiphany," or appearance to the Wise Men (in the Western church) or his baptism (in the Eastern church).
With the evolution of Christmas as a special day on Dec. 25, the focus of Advent gradually moved from Epiphany to the "coming" ("adventus" in Latin) of Christ at His birth.
Advent later came to symbolize anticipation for Christ's second coming as well, and the Western church dropped fasting during Advent. The season of Advent, which Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants begin on the Sunday nearest Nov. 30, includes four Sundays and ends on Christmas Eve. (Eastern Orthodox Churches have a longer, more solemn Advent season.)
Many churches and homes now mark this season with wreaths, candles, special colors and religious calendars. It is a time for anticipating Christmas as the celebration of Jesus' birth, for anticipating His coming anew into our own hearts and anticipating His coming again in person and in power at the End.
The word "Advent" does not appear in the English Bible, but the idea behind that word — the "coming" of the Messiah — runs through both Old and New Testaments.
Luke tells of Simeon and Anna, who eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah, and joyfully recognized him in the infant Jesus (Luke 2:25-38). The apostle Paul describes Christians as people who now eagerly await Christ's second coming (1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20; 2 Timothy 4:8).
Since neither Jesus nor His apostles specifically commanded Advent (or Christmas or Easter), Christians who choose not to observe these religious holidays cannot be faulted. But neither is there any harm in using these special occasions to remember and celebrate the important events, which are certainly at the heart of our Christian faith (Romans 14:5-6).
If you have been following these columns over the past few months, you know that there are five area churches here in Lodi that have been journeying together through "The Story" (a 31-chapter book taken directly from Scripture that narrates the Bible as one continuing story of God and His people).
However, during this Christmas and Advent Season that is upon us, we will be taking a small break from "The Story" to focus more on the arrival and birth of our Savior Jesus Christ — the true reason for this season.
I want to encourage you to bless us with your presence at one of our worship services at Ham Lane Church of Christ, Vinewood Community, Temple Baptist, First Baptist or Emanuel Lutheran churches, and allow us to share a Christmas blessing with you and your family during this holiday season.
I pray you all have a very merry Christmas, a happy New Year and may God bless us, everyone.
Chad Eric Donley is the preaching minister for the Ham Lane Church of Christ.