The liturgical year offers us the discipline to follow in the steps of Christ during his ministry on earth. It is a compass for worship, and one I grew up with in the Lutheran Church and still cherish.
We are now at the beginning of a new church year in Advent, Year C in the three-year liturgical cycle. Advent is the shortest season and easily overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations. But I believe Advent is quite special, and can be of value to us if we so choose.
The word Advent is derived from the Latin Adventus meaning "coming." The season has been in existence from at least the 5th century. Advent traditionally recognizes three aspects of Christ's return: the incarnation in the manger, presence in our hearts daily, and the return of Christ at the end of all things. In our modern day progressive outlook, one could say that it's the birth of Christ and God's message of salvation to the world that is of prime focus. But is Advent just a nod to tradition in our worship services or is there more?
If we think about it, many of us already have an Advent state of mind post-Thanksgiving: shopping for Christmas presents, planning trips to see friends and relatives, or preparing one's home for guests. We are getting ready, staying awake, preparing for the coming of...something.
For myself, I can always use a little introspection, a little penitence. And Advent has those qualities built in, though not quite as overt as in Lent. But we can take stock of ourselves, make changes, and be grateful for God's presence in our lives. Remind ourselves to just listen to that small voice within.
Musically, the liturgical year has provided an abundance of inspiration to composers over the centuries. Advent is no exception, ranging from the chorale preludes of Bach and Buxtehude, masterworks such as Part One of Handel's Messiah to contemporary compositions by Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, and John Rutter.
So, Christmas will come, soon enough. Let's enjoy the journey there and stay centered, tethered to what really matters. I leave you with a poem by MaryAnn Jindra. The Chancel Choir sang this text in a setting by composer Libby Larsen last year, "Lord, Before This Fleeting Season." It encapsulates the meaning of Advent far better than I could ever do. Let's give Advent a chance to offer clarity in our busy lives.
Lord, before this fleeting season is upon us,
Let me remember to walk slowly.
Lord, bless my heart with love and with quiet.
Give my heart a leaning to hear carols.
Grace our family with contentment,
And the peace that comes only from You.
Lord, help us to do less this busy season;
Go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.
May our hearts be Your heart.
May we simply, peacefully, celebrate You.
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.