The new Church Year will soon be upon us with the beginning of Advent this coming Sunday, December 2, 2012. With this Sunday, the Church Kalendar begins again from the beginning, with its steady sequence of seasons, presenting the Christian message for us on an annual basis. I intend to write a weekly article on the Collect for each Sunday, to appear late in the week preceding the Sunday for which the Collect is appointed, throughout the season of Advent (on either Thursday or Friday, in all likelihood). The articles will be partly historical fact, and partly meditation on the content of the Collect. This will give each of you some time to think about the Collect before you go to Mass on Sunday, and to prepare yourselves for the theme of the coming Sunday.
In writing these articles, there is one resource that I will be drawing upon heavily that I should like to acknowledge at this point: Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, Oxford University Press, 1950. I will not attempt to acknowledge this source every time that I draw upon it, but it is the primary source for most of the factual historical information that I will include in this series.
I will begin this project today with some general comments on the Advent season as a whole. Today, we think of Advent as the beginning of the Church Year, but it has not always been so. In the earliest days, and still today in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Church Year is considered to begin with Easter, and the logic for this is not difficult to understand. When the celebration of Christmass was instituted in the fourth century AD, then Christmass became the beginning of the Church Year.
The English word Advent is derived from the two Latin root words ad + venire which mean to + come. The season of Advent was first begun in the churches of France and Spain at an uncertain date, probably around the fourth century. It was a penitential period of preparation for those who would be baptized on Epiphany, and was comparable to the Lenten fast in preparation for Easter. In the sixth century, it was commonly called St. Martin’s Lent, and it began on St. Martin’s day on November 11. In the sixth century, the Church adopted Advent as a preparation for Christmass. By the eighth century, it was taken as the beginning of the Church Year (the Kalendar), and shortened to four Sundays.
As the concept of Advent has developed over the years, so the emphasis of the season has also added a new dimension. Originally only focused on the First Coming of Jesus Christ as the Infant Saviour at Bethlehem in Judea, it has also taken on a second focus looking at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time as Judge of the world. Thus the pericopes cause us to look both at the Christ that came once before in a stable, who as we know, eventually suffered and died for our sins, before rising from death and returning to Heaven, but also to look at this same Jesus Christ who will come again at an unknown time. We have great joy when we contemplate our redemption, won for us in the Incarnation of Jesus Our Saviour. We tremble with fear and awe when we think of Jesus as the Righteous Judge that awaits us. Both of these are equally real, and we must deal with both and prepare for them both.
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.