Why Seven Weeks of Advent Matters

Trinity Cathedral observes Advent for seven weeks instead of four. The season begins Sunday, November 12 and lasts until Christmas.

 

The Season of Advent is a season of expectant waiting. Advent holds in tension, the joyful anticipation of the celebration of the first coming of the Redeemer as a babe in Bethlehem, and the lingering themes of judgment that surround the proclamation of the second coming of the Redeemer in power and great glory.  During the Season of Advent, the Church is invited to live into the dynamic of this tension.  Only by embracing this natural “unease” of Advent’s core is it possible for the people to experience fully this time of preparation, reflection, and anticipation.

Unfortunately, in our cultural context, this opportunity to prepare our selves for the Advent of the Kingdom of God is truncated.  In our culture, the first Sunday of Advent typically begins on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  This results in the first Sunday of Advent becoming overshadowed by the Thanksgiving Holiday (if not actually being absorbed by that holiday) and coinciding with our society’s busiest shopping season.  The other reality of our cultural context is that Christmas has become commercialized and thus the month of December is now understood to be the “Christmas shopping season.”  Consequently, our collective focus is on preparing for Christmas by searching for the perfect gifts. Culturally, the season is characterized by a sense of urgency — a mad rush to acquire the material trimmings for the season.  There is no longer any sense of waiting, reflection or anticipation.

Originally, the season of Advent was nearly seven weeks long.  The season was shortened to four weeks with the introduction of the Gregorian Sacramentary in the seventh century.  However, this truncated version of the season was not widely adopted by the Western Church until the twelfth or thirteenth century.  By the time of the Reformation, few remembered that Advent had once been a longer season.  Although lost to the Western Church, to this day, the Orthodox Church still celebrates the historical observance of the longer season of Advent.

The season of Advent is a season of preparation.  This preparation isn’t limited to the celebration of Christmas but for the implications of the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  In other words, the focus is on the Christian hope represented by the full manifestation of the reign of God — “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is a season that when properly observed sets the context for the entire liturgical season — looking to the fulfillment of the implications of the Paschal Mystery.  The season of Advent is an invitation to enter the liturgical year with deeper understandings, wider horizons, and higher expectations.

The Revised Common Lectionary reflects a shift of emphasis and a change of atmosphere after the celebration of All Saints.  The Gospel texts read after All Saints Sunday stress a harvest-time and fulfillment theme.  This thematic shift within the readings summons the church to reflect on our responsibilities as the Body of Christ in the world — actively seeking to live into the reality of God’s reign.  The lectionary readings reinforce the themes of the season of Advent and support the observance of a seven-week advent.

For the third year, Trinity Cathedral will observe the ancient practice of celebrating a seven-week season of Advent.  Our 2017 observance begins the Sunday after All Saints (Sunday, November 12th) and we will continue the practice of introducing the Advent wreath on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It is our hope that this shift will enable us as a congregation to participate fully in this season of expectant waiting and anticipation — affording the space to hold in tension our joyful anticipation of the coming of the Christ child and the advent of the Kingdom of God in our midst.