With the First Sunday in Advent, we begin one of two major cycles of the Church year: Advent-Christmas-Epiphany (the Incarnation Cycle). The other major cycle is Lent-Holy Week-Easter (the Paschal or Resurrection Cycle). In our liturgies, seasonal changes in scripture readings, liturgical texts, music and practice, along with colors and ornamentation, reveal each season’s meaning within the overall shape of the cycle of which it is a part.
Advent means “arrival” and “coming.” Advent’s readings weave together the three comings of Christ: in the past, in history, as a baby born in Bethlehem; in the future, at the end of all history, to bring in God’s kingdom; and in the present, today and every day, in the Word and Bread and Wine of the Eucharist, in friend and stranger, in the ordinary moments of living, in our hearts. Advent is a season of waiting and expectation, hoping and yearning, looking for, preparing for, the coming of Christ.
At Christmas, God’s promise of salvation is revealed in the birth of Jesus. The unlikely and wondrous gift is given—Incarnation! – God’s Word made flesh. And the Word God has spoken in Incarnation is Love. Christmas is a season of amazement and celebration of Emmanuel, God’s Love come among us in Christ.
Epiphany means “appearance, manifestation.” We hear stories of God revealed in Jesus, God in a human being made manifest. The season begins with the visit of the magi to the manger on the Feast of Epiphany and the baptism of Jesus on the first Sunday after. It ends with the vision of Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop, shot through with the glory of his divinity. Epiphany is a season of growing revelation and realization of what Advent points to and Christmas makes reality – that over 2,000 years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem, in a baby in a manger, God’s grace, mercy, justice and peace came into the world in human form and lived among us as one of us. And human possibilities and potential were forever changed.
Long ago, God spoke to us through the prophets, but now God has spoken to us by a Son. May we be blessed in our Advent preparations, Christmas celebrations and Epiphany discoveries, drawn ever more deeply into the mystery of God in Christ.
The Rev. Janet Campbell