The church always does things differently than the rest of the world. Or is it the other way around? Our “new year” begins every year with the first Sunday in Advent (which begins at sunset on the Saturday before). Although there were prior developments, the present four- week observance of Advent did not take shape until the fifth century even though the western church at this time was celebrating the birth of Christ either on January 6th (Epiphany) or on December 25th which was the “new” celebration date that helped the newly converted Christians have a festival date to replace the Roman Saturnalia festival of Natalis Solis Invicti (the birth of the unconquerable sun). The new Christian festival of Christmas on December 25th would now celebrate the birth of the unconquerable Son (of God). In a very real sense, establishment of the festival of the birth of Christ on December 25th was a move towards evangelism. New converts really felt at a loss around the winter solstice so a Christ-mass on 12/25 would fill the void handily.

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus meaning “coming” or even “arrival.” During Advent we prepare ourselves both for the first coming of Christ in the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago AND for the second coming of Christ. In this preparatory time we are to look inside ourselves, take stock and make ourselves ready for final judgment. This is why we don’t play big box department store Christmas music during Advent. We Episcopalians are in the process of looking inward and hoping outward. ‘Tis not the time for merriment – yet.

Each particular church season is marked by a color for the altar, pulpit, lectern, and clergy vestments. The color for Advent is blue (It used to be purple) although the third Sunday of Advent (gaudete or rejoice Sunday) may use a rose color. Deep blue is the color associated with Mary and along with Mary the church waits for the birth of Jesus.

Like many Episcopal Churches Grace Church Muskogee marks each Sunday in Advent by lighting one of five candles on an Advent wreath. Four of the candles are for the four Sundays in Advent. The fifth center candle which is white is lit on Christmas Eve.

Spiritually Advent is a time for us to “get ready” and to build up the hope in our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ. We do this by repenting our sins, claiming and amending our bad choices, and finally by getting ourselves out the way so that Christ can dwell within us – and within the Church

It is impossible for one to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas without going through the real work of Advent. The three seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany present completely different messages and demand distinctly different spiritual approaches, different music, and different worship services.

In 2010 Advent starts on November 28th. On Sundays in Advent this year the choir will not rehearse in the sanctuary. This will make the space seem unusually quiet. You will be asked by the greeters to take your seats quietly and spend some time with the Lord before worship. The lighting in the nave (where the people sit) will be reduced somewhat. The service will start with a few plaintive verses of “O Come, O Come Emanuel.” Some of the scripture for the day will be read “choral style” by four readers seated at the top of the chancel steps. The whole idea will be to carve out an hour during each week of the secular busy season where you are asked to be intentionally quiet and reflective. We want this to be a time during the week when you can encounter Christ coming into your life. The fourth Sunday in Advent will be celebrated with “Advent Lessons and Carols.” Warning: Some of the music may be Christmas season music because Episcopalians are also flexible.