In Advent, the shadows lengthen and darkness comes earlier and earlier. We light candles and huddle in the darkness, waiting and watching. We pray and sing songs of longing. We prepare and reflect. Advent is like the pre-morning activity before a big event. We work quietly, hushed by the stillness and darkness all around, looking for the sun to rise on the new day.

Advent means “coming.” The four weeks leading up to Christmas are set aside for us to prepare and reflect on Jesus Christ’s first coming 2,000 years ago and look forward to his coming again. Christians are called to always live their lives as if it is Advent, preparing for the return of King Jesus. But during Advent we take additional time to reflect on what it will be like when Jesus returns to His creation and makes it very good once again. As we look at this vision of the coming kingdom, it reveals the parts of our lives that are not in line with this kingdom. Advent is a penitential season. You may notice that we will start each Sunday with the Confession. The Scriptures will highlight our sinfulness and God’s coming redemption. This is one way we prepare. But penitential seasons are about far more than stopping sin in our lives; they are also about active love. We bless and serve our neighbors. We serve at soup kitchens. We share the good news and invite the stranger in. We live our lives as lights in the darkness.

Sometimes people think of the Advent wreath with its four candles as a countdown clock to Christmas. But this has it the wrong way around. It is a countUP clock. The light grows and grows with each new candle bursting into flame, until the whole world is illumined by the Light of the world. But until that day, we make our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Therefore, I invite you to the observance of a holy Advent.