How do you feel about Christmas carols before Thanksgiving? For purists of the liturgical calendar, it's even worse; there should be no Christmas carols before Christmas. The weeks leading up to Christmas are the season of Advent, and the purpose of Advent is NOT to celebrate the fact that Christ came into the world, but to anticipate the fact that Christ will come into the world. In the strictest sense, we don't celebrate Christ's birth until December 25th, and season of Christmas is the weeks after Christmas up to January 6th, when we celebrate Epiphany. THAT's when Christmas carols are supposed to be sung, if you're being a purist.
What are we supposed to do during Advent then? How do we anticipate? Advent is also called a time of preparation. Are we ready for Christ to come into the world? How do we prepare? Like Lent, the color is purple. We ae encouraged to introspection in times of preparation. In I Thessalonians 3:13, part of the lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent, Paul says "may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God." How might we strengthen our hearts during this season of introspection? We who follow the Reformed tradition certainly believe that we're all fallen, but we also don't give up on being good for God in our hearts and actions. We ask ourselves whether we're striving for holiness, whether we're pursuing God's righteousness. At the same time, it's not all up to us. We trust, with Paul, that it is God who strengthens our hearts. We're fallen, but still, we can do our part by being intentional about preparing for the coming Christ.
There are many ways to prepare, but I'll list a few here .
Prayer: I Timothy 2:1 says, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone." All these words aren't exact, but I think of supplication as asking for my own needs, whereas intercession is me taking someone else's needs to God (Latin, inter, between, as in I'm between the other person's need and God). Thanksgiving is prayers to God for blessings already given, and prayer is any way of addressing God—the superset of these, but more than these. Perhaps during Advent, we could be intentional about praying all of these types of prayers regularly.
Service and kindness: There are many ways to do service in Pauls Valley. If you want to volunteer regularly, people in this church can connect you to Samaritan Food Pantry or Garvin County Hope for Tomorrow, or any number of other opportunities. Service would not have to be through organizations. Finding some way to show kindness by visiting someone or sending a card would be good, too.
Justice: God says, "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." What ways are people oppressed or abused? What ways can you help? It may be that the first thing you need to do is study by reading a book or otherwise researching a problem. You can always write letters to your government officials to let them know what issues are of concern for you. Advocating for someone or helping someone get in touch with professionals for real help from social workers, lawyers, mental health professionals can be considered another form of justice.
Reading and study: I try to keep up with readings from the lectionary, but there are many ways to schedule reading the Bible. If you're starting from scratch reading the Bible this Advent, I suggest reading in the Gospel of Luke, since that's where this year's lectionary is focused. Get a good study Bible, or come by the church to read one here or borrow one to take home. The library is well stocked, so you should have no problem finding quality commentaries and resources besides the Bible to enhance your study.
Different people have different styles and interests. There's no right or wrong way to do Advent. The challenge is to be intentional and consistent. Do a little each day or a little each week. Don't jump ahead to Christmas without doing the preparation work. For a truly meaningful Christmas, take time to get spiritually ready for it during Advent.