Amid the seemingly endless seasonal details demanding Christians’ time and attention — holiday parties, travel, gifts, decorating and more — spiritual preparations for the celebration of Jesus’ birth can get lost.
Even for the most devout, the four-week season of Advent –— beginning this year on Sunday, November 27 — often is less about anticipation of the coming of the Messiah on Christmas Day and more about celebrating Santa Claus and the secular trappings of the season.
All about liturgy
In the Catholic Church, Advent is a liturgical season similar in tone and content to Lent, says John Prust, director of the Office for Family Life and Spirituality for the Diocese of San Diego.
“Advent, like Lent, is a personal journey, a chance for us to look inward and prepare for Christ as the baby Jesus coming into the world,” Prust says. “We have the opportunity to go inward so that when Christmas Day comes, we are ready.”
For Catholics, the 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and extend through Epiphany on Jan. 6, when the three kings are said to have followed the star to Jesus’ manger. Each Christmas tradition has symbolism, he adds.
“Often we celebrate Christmas beginning in November right after Black Friday, but our traditions remind us that, really, Christmas is not here yet.”
The church’s liturgical calendar mirrors the journey of life, Prust says.
“While there’s a tremendous focus on celebration, Christmas has many social justice themes associated with the child born in a manger, as helpless as you can get. The nature of how Christ comes into the world emphasizes how we are called to serve those in similar circumstances.”
Advent calendars are used in many Catholic homes to help families remember that the four weeks leading up to Christmas are a time of spiritual reflection and preparation. Each week and candle has a theme: The first candle symbolizes hope; the second candle represents faith; the third candle, in a rose shade, symbolizes joy; and the fourth candle represents peace.
“Advent reminds us of what Christmas is all about,” Prust says. “We can get carried away with commercialism, or we can intentionally prepare our hearts for Jesus’ birthday.
“We take a Biblical approach to Advent and celebrate throughout the entire month of December, specifically preaching through the story of Jesus’s birth and all the events leading up to it,” says All Peoples Church Worship Pastor Stephen Gulley. “Messages and singing at our Sunday services will reflect on the beauty and gift of Jesus at Christmas.”
Gulley says the church’s Dec. 7 tree-lighting event outside the church building will kick off the Christmas season for his members. A non-traditional Christmas show featuring ballet, tap and hip-hop dance, contemporary Christian music, poetry, and many other creative expressions takes place in the church’s outdoor tent at all three services on Dec. 11.
“Advent per se is not something we do as a whole church,” he says. “We are using the inspirational message about the goodness of God in giving us His son.”
December finds the church changing colors on campus to reflect the season, and ministers preparing each service to ensure the arc of Jesus’s birth is included.
“This year’s theme is Experience the Hope of Christmas, and for us it starts with what we want to be practicing as we set to table for the season,” Gulley adds, noting that the church operates a food distribution ministry and emphasizes service to the less-fortunate. “Jesus was poor and a refugee when he was born.”
Faith as foundation
Barrabas Road Church on Ronson Road intentionally has just one service each Sunday, says Senior Pastor Matt Smith, so that the congregation can look at one another and see the Body of Christ.
And while the church does not celebrate the season of Advent, “for the month of December, each sermon begins and ends in referencing the incarnation,” Smith explains. “It is always relevant, wherever you are in the Bible.” Members will culminate the celebration of Christmas at the service held Dec. 25.
The Christmas season is an important time to remind Christians that they embody faith, he adds. “Christmas is a reminder that every year, even when things get dark, God is always working in the background. “He brought forth His son in the perfect time and the perfect way.”
This year, the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Evangelization and Catechetical Ministry offers a bilingual Advent Evening of Prayer at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Carlsbad, featuring a meditation, music, and reception presented by Sister Rose Marie Tulacz. Known as the Nun with a Nikon, Sister Tulacz is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the founder of Notre Dame Creations, a ministry of liturgical and fine art photography and spirituality. $15. (858) 490-8232. sdcatholic.org/event/bilingual-advent-evening-of-prayer/
All Peoples Church will kick off the Christmas season with a Dec. 7 tree-lighting event at 6:30 p.m. outside the church building at 5577 University Ave. At three Sunday services on Dec. 11, the All Peoples Christmas Show will feature music, dancing, drama and comedy in a family-friendly variety format. allpeoples.churchcenter.com/registrations/events/1488603