Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

Being in the Holy Land this year, sending out Christmas cards or even that obnoxious creation, the ubiquitous holiday letter, is not really an option.  But being here and doing this blog has given us a chance to produce a Video Christmas Card, which features my family sending you greetings straight from Shepherds Field just north of Bethlehem:

Our family on the Mount of Olives with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background.

On an open hillside north of Bethlehem that is reminiscent of that first Shepherds Field

For some ten years now, our family has incorporated a modified form of Advent into our seasonal celebrations.  I wanted to share with you a short article on how this can keep Christ the focus of our holiday season that appeared Thanksgiving Day in the Mormon Times section of The Deseret News.  Each Sunday of Advent I will post a brief update with scriptures, readings, and song suggestions for that day.

From our family to you and yours, Happy Advent and Merry Christmas as we remember the Good Tidings of Great Joy that are what this season is all about.

The Huntsmans

Celebrating Advent
See Good Tidings of Great Joy, 16-17, and the Deseret News article in the Mormon Times for November 24, 2011.

               As we move from Thanksgiving into the Christmas season, it is easy for decorations, festivities, and, sadly, commercialism to dominate our holiday.  In reaction to this, many individuals and families look for ways to keep Jesus as the focus of their Christmas celebration.  For over ten years, our family has adopted the custom of celebrating Advent in an attempt to do just that.  While Advent is not a common LDS practice, we have found that adapting it to our needs and weaving LDS scriptures and teachings into this old celebration has made it a powerful teaching tool for our children and a warm new family tradition for all of us.

               Advent is an important tradition in Germany and Scandinavia as well as being part of the Christmas worship of many branches of Christianity, including the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist churches.  The name “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming, appearance, or presence.”  As early as Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 590–604), Advent was established as a four week preparatory period that anticipated the celebration of the birth, or advent, of Christ as the Babe of Bethlehem.  But as observed today, Advent also celebrates Christ’s presence and importance in our lives now, and, just as importantly, looks forward to his future return in glory when he will reign as Lord of lords and King of kings.

               Although some Christian communities celebrate it differently, a common feature of the Advent celebration is the Advent wreath, a simple or decorated evergreen wreath with four candles set in the circle and perhaps a fifth, white candle set in the middle.  Traditionally three of the outer candles are purple, the color of royalty, celebrating the imminent coming of the Newborn King, while one of them is pink or rose-colored.  On the first Sunday of Advent, which this year is November 27, the first purple candle is lit.  On each subsequent Sunday an additional candle is lit until Christmas Eve, when the central candle is list as well.

               The lighting of the candles on each of the four Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve gives families an opportunity to gather for a Christmas devotional, taking a break from all of the other holiday festivities to focus on the true meaning of the season.  Although traditions differ regarding the symbolism of these candles, we have adopted one that sees these candles as representing the Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace that came because of the birth of Jesus Christ and which can continue to come into our lives today as we take the opportunity to turn to him during this joyful season.

               Traditionally those who celebrate Advent gather, either in their churches or as families in their homes, to read scriptures from the Old Testament that anticipate the birth of Jesus.  After reflecting upon these Advent themes they may then sing carols specifically written for the Advent season.  When our family gathers each Sunday of Advent, we use scriptures as well from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.  We take some time to discuss that Sunday’s focus and reflect on how it applies to us, after which we sing any of our favorite Christmas carols that fit the day’s theme.  After our family prayer, we turn to other, lighter traditions such as sharing a Christmas treat, opening that day’s pocket in our Advent calendar, and listening to Christmas music.  Advent has thus become a cherished tradition in our family, one that helps us reflect on the true meaning of the season throughout the month.

               In some traditions, the central candle lit on Christmas Eve represents the Advent theme of Presence, indicating that just as Jehovah came to be with his people that first Christmas, he can be present in our lives now if we open our hearts to him.  Because we use many Book of Mormon passages in our Advent celebration, we have come to use that fifth candle for a new Advent theme, that of Salvation.  This is because every prophecy of the coming of Jesus in the Book of Mormon is also tightly linked to why the Son of God came into the world—to suffer, die, and rise again for us all.

Weekly Advent Updates

Each week of Advent, we will share the scriptures and carols that our family uses in our celebration of Advent.  Whether you choose to actually observe Advent yourself, we hope that these scriptures will provide you with a source of meaningful reflection this Christmas season.

1 comment:

  1. Eric, I just discovered your blog as I was organizing Christmas card addresses and remembered from your letter last year that you would be in Israel. Am enjoying it thoroughly, and will look forward to following your experiences. A kind family member is sending our cards from the states, though it would be interesting to see how quickly a card would go from Chile to Israel. As much as we are enjoying our international experience, we're a bit jealous of yours! Enjoy thoroughly these special holidays, and I hope we will meet again when we're all back home again.