Opening - by Marlin Detweiler
Feature Article – Yearning for the Coming of Christ by Robert Ingram
Educational Helps – by Laurie Detweiler
Another Advent season is upon us but this time, thanks to great help in our office, I’m ahead of the curve such that I got to our Feature Article author early enough to secure an article about Advent from him and to introduce you to a wonderful book that he has compiled for celebrating Advent.
Yearning for the Coming of Christ
The Christian faith is full of anticipation.
Of all the created order under heaven, only humans can anticipate what is to come. Being created in the image of God we have the ability to reflect upon ourselves and our lives, to imagine the future, and to think, plan, and act with a sense of expectation and hope. As believers, we also know that the Christian faith is pregnant with anticipation as well. By it, we express hope in the future and an expectation that all of God’s promises will certainly come to pass.
The Advent season is especially characterized by anticipation. The best-known seasonal hymn of preparation is, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” whose seven verses all begin with a long, slowly drawn out “O,” expressing a deep yearning for the coming of Christ. When this song was first written in the eighth century, the monks who composed it were identifying with the Old Testament church, which also yearned for the coming of the Messiah. What a beautifully expressive word yearning is, denoting the deep, reverent longing of the soul for our Savior to come again in glory.
Within the liturgical church, of which I am a part, our practice has been to accentuate this yearning for the coming of Christ through the use of traditional Advent and Christmas practices. Each year our worship life expresses our faithful confidence that God will fulfill His promises on behalf of Christ and His church. The anticipation of this is so joyful that carol after carol is sung and played the world over.
There is no single biblical event upon which Advent is based. It has no root in the Old Testament and no precedent in the Jewish faith. In the Christian faith, Advent is something of a later addition in history, as is the celebration of Christmas itself.
Believers did not begin to celebrate Christmas as a distinct religious festival or holiday until the fourth or fifth century after the birth of Christ. When it did begin to be observed, it was done so in the month of December, even though that was not likely the month in which Christ was born. In the year 529, Emperor Justinian declared December 25 a civic holiday; in 567 the Council of Tours established the season of Advent as a time of fasting preceding Christmas day. At this same council they proclaimed the 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred season. (Epiphany celebrates Christ’s first appearance to the Gentiles when He was worshiped by the Wise Men. It is the twelfth day of Christmas and is celebrated on January 6 each year.)
When the church began to celebrate Christmas in the fourth century, two distinct traditions emerged. Christians in northern and western Europe (Germany, France, Spain, and the Netherlands) instituted a season of seven or more weeks that were designed to culminate in the Feast of Epiphany. Fasting was a central feature of this season, as well as a penitential attitude (sorrow for sin and refraining from joyful celebrations such as weddings, amusements, and other pleasures). At the Feast of Epiphany, concluding this period, joy would be reintroduced as new converts were baptized and joined to the church.
A different tradition emerged in Rome and portions of southern Europe. A short, joyous season of anticipation marked their preparation for the birth of Christ.
Beginning in the eighth century, and continuing for several hundred years, a merging of the two European traditions took place. The final structure of the Advent season combined features of both. Rome adopted the fasting and penitential character of Advent while maintaining an emphasis upon joyful celebration. The northern Europeans shortened their observance to the four weeks that Rome practiced, no longer extending it through Epiphany. This compromise was concluded in the thirteenth century and has remained largely unchanged today.
Within the liturgical calendar, Advent marks the beginning of the church year. The first Sunday in Advent is the one occurring nearest, or on, November 30. While always including four Sundays, the season may vary in length from 22-28 days, concluding on Christmas Eve.
Advent has come to us through the Latin ad venire, meaning “coming” or “arrival,” referring, of course, to the coming of Jesus Christ. Within the church, a three-fold meaning has been derived from this term:
1) the Advent of our Lord in the flesh at Christmas;
2) the Advent of the Lord in Word and Spirit through the church;
3) the Advent of our Lord when He returns in glory to judge all men and nations.
If there is one theme that runs throughout all three, it is the joyful recognition of what God has accomplished and the anticipation of how He will yet fulfill His promises to the church.
Our observance of Advent in the liturgical year helps us to mark sacred time. It becomes a safeguard against falling into the secular and commercial trappings of Christmas. We are exhorted to live bittersweet lives in this season, glad-hearted for Christ’s coming, but ever mindful that He returns as Judge over all men and nations. These two strains were present at the institution of Advent and are continued a thousand years later. When combined with Epiphany it becomes an extended period of focused attention upon God’s promises and their fulfillment in the birth of our Savior.
Anticipation is good when the object of our hope is good. As we anticipate Jesus, His Kingdom, His coming, and His gospel, let these profoundly good things give way to unprecedented joy at the prospect of all God has promised us in this Advent season.
Bob is the headmaster at The Geneva School in Winter Park, Florida. He has also served as a pastor at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Winter Park and as a vice president at Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. During his time at Ligonier he edited the Advent book Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration.
The History of the Advent Wreath
The use of the Advent wreath during Advent is a German custom. The circular wreath, which has no beginning and no end, represents eternity. The eternal, unchanging love of God is made evident to us through His Son. The evergreens represent life and hope in Christ. The four outer candles represent the period from the creation of the world to the coming of Christ in the fullness of time. Entwined around the circle of evergreens are red berries. Looking like large, red drops of blood, they symbolize the blood shed by Christ to redeem His chosen ones.
Set up a wreath in a prominent location in your home, then on each of the four Sundays of Advent and on Christmas Eve gather together as a family with the pages we have prepared for you, read about that week’s candle, light it and read the Scripture that is provided. Then, join together to sing the accompanying song. Coloring pages are provided to keep little fingers busy during your times of family worship this Advent. Click here to access the Advent wreath project sheets.
Free Book for Celebrating Christmas
Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration has been a family favorite of ours. Edited by Robert Ingram, author of our feature article, it contains portions written by R.C. Sproul, Charles Swindoll, James Dobson, and James Montgomery Boice, who together lead families through an inspiring celebration of the Christmas season. The book retails for $9.99. A FREE copy is yours for the asking with orders of $200 or more, or for $5.00 with orders of $75 or more. All you need to do is ask when ordering. Click the link to order Christ in Christmas from our web site.
Q. I’m not familiar with Classical Christian Education. Where do I start to find out more?
A. Classical Christian Education can appear to be a vast, deep ocean, almost too big to comprehend. But don’t let that deter you. We recommend wading in from the shallow end and, like on the Florida Gulf Coast, you can go for quite a way out and keep your feet in the sand and your head above water. Start by reading a booklet written by our pastor, Gregg Strawbridge, titled Classical and Christian Education. You will also find much help in our Resources area of our website. There are articles from past catalogs and of course, the essay that started it all in the modern era, The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers. Finally, and we think most thoroughly and effectively, the book that began the adventure for us was Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson. We think no introduction to classical Christian education is complete without reading this book.
Q. What is the difference between the Omnibus student text and the teacher text with CD? Do I need both to teach one child?
A. To date, Veritas Press has published three of the planned six volumes of Omnibus. Each of the hardcover texts are intended as a student textbook and can be purchased individually. However, to effectively teach the Omnibus series, you will definitely want the student text with a Teacher CD-ROM. Your child will have the hard copy text and you will have the CD for your computer, which includes a full version of the text in pdf format, teaching helps (such as reading timelines and answers to all the questions), how-to-grade suggestions, and exams with their keys.
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Veritas Press Scholars Academy Online Course Survey
In an effort to best provide you what you need or want with online classes, we have developed a survey that will take you 5–10 minutes. We are now making plans for the 2009–2010 school year and for next summer. Click here to begin the survey. Thank you very much.
On the Political Front
I wonder if you are as frustrated and fed up with Washington as we are. Recently we were sent these two links to videos, one targeting Protestants and one targeting Roman Catholics, that were both quite gripping. We commend them to you and your friends.
Future Job Opening with Veritas Press Scholars Academy
Online Teachers – With the rapid growth of our online courses we are anticipating needing even more teachers for the 2009–2010 school year. Experienced teachers can work from home, the beach, or anywhere high-speed internet is available. Send résumé to email@example.com. And don’t wait if you are interested. We continue to interview now to qualify teachers for next year and beyond.
Learn about Patrick Henry College
Patrick Henry College’s mission is to prepare Christians who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding. It features:
• A classical Christian liberal arts curriculum
• Majors in Classical Liberal Arts, Government, History, Journalism, or Literature
• Internships and apprenticeships that add real-life applications to their classroom learning
• Their fellow Christian students, an integral part of their educational experience.
To learn more, click to visit the Patrick Henry College web site.
A Thoughtful Review of The Shack
The Shack is a new book sweeping both the evangelical and secular book lists. Some have hailed it as the next Pilgrim’s Progress. Douglas Wilson has reviewed the book; click here to read his comments on The Shack.
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