Several days ago, a 15-year-old young lady said that she hadn’t decided what to give up for Advent. After a brief discussion, we clarified the fact that she had confused Advent with Lent. However she wasn’t exactly wrong.
Last Sunday was the first day of the Season of Advent in the church calendar. Advent begins the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas Day. For centuries, the Church has looked on Advent as a sort of mini-Lent. The liturgical color of Lent is purple, the color of royalty and penitence. The color for Advent is also traditionally purple, although blue, denoting royalty and hope, is often substituted.
Lent forces us to take a look at where we are and encourages us to make adjustments toward a more holy life. Advent does the same in that Advent looks back to the coming of Christ in Bethlehem and also looks forward to His coming again to “judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.”
It is an opportunity to look back at our own life and behavior to see how we measure up to the demands and challenges of the teachings and example of Jesus. As we look into the future toward our inevitable meeting with Him (either when He comes in glory or when we face Him in death), we are encouraged to “be ready.”
In the movie trilogy, “Back to the Future,” the viewers easily see the consequences that present decisions have on future circumstances. Unfortunately, we cannot go back and change the past. We are given no do-overs.
A Christian patch seen in a motorcycle shop read simply: “Sin, Repent, Repeat.” This does seem to be our human pattern. While we cannot change the past decisions, we do have the opportunity, as Christian believers, to repent — to be “heartily sorry for these our misdoings” and to turn away from those sins. Hopefully, we will not repeat the same sin — but we might. If not this same sin, we will doubtless commit others.
A widely used corporate confession of sin assumes that we sin “in thought, word, and deed” against “God and our neighbors.” The simple truth is that we all have broken every one of the Ten Commandments — if not in deed, then in thought or word. Some sins may be against our neighbors but every single sin is committed against God. As King David said, “against Thee and Thee only have I sinned.”
Certain critics who are not of the Christian faith revel in pointing out that Christians sin just like everyone else and that in many ways they are no different that non-believers.
The critics are partially right. We do sin — in the very same ways. The difference is that we are usually very conscious that what we are doing, or thinking, or saying is wrong and that, somehow and some day, we will be held accountable. We recognize that we have no excuses.
An Orthodox Christian prayer, called the “Jesus Prayer,” is repeated continually by Orthodox monastics. The prayer simply says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This prayer is a recognition that Jesus Christ is Lord and God and that we are sinners in need of continual mercy.
Lent and Advent are designed to remind us of those truths. It is no accident that Lent precedes Easter, the highest and holiest day in the Church. It is no accident that Advent precedes Christmas Day, perhaps the greatest celebratory day in the Church. Lent and Advent are preparatory seasons for great events.
So, as we prepare to give gifts this season, it is also appropriate to give up some things — anger, bitterness, gossip, self-pity, blaming others, bigotry, and a host of thoughts, words, and deeds that are ugly and unseemly.
Days of celebration are ahead. It is time to get ready.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]