JOPLIN, Mo. —
When Christmas finally arrives on Wednesday, many will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that all the hustle and bustle preparing for this wonderful holiday will be over.
However, for many others, such as J. Friedel, pastor of St. Peter's Catholic Church, it doesn't end there. To Friedel and countless other Christians, Christmas is not just about one day of celebration but part of the Advent season.
Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and serves as a reminder both of the original waiting by Israelites for the birth of the Messiah, as well as the waiting by Christians for the return of Christ.
In the Catholic tradition, according to Friedel, the focus begins on Christ's coming at the end of time and in our everyday lives. As Christmas grows nearer, the focus turns to remembering his coming to us in space and time as we celebrate his coming in the flesh as our incarnate Lord, Friedel said.
Christmas Day is the time to celebrate Christ's birth, and that is when, Friedel said, we pull out all the stops.
"We just get started, and the rest of the world is already over Christmas," he said. "As Catholics, we try to hold that tension to remember all of Christ's various comings, in history then, in mystery now and in glory at the end of time."
Katharine Redpath, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church, said her church has been observing midweek Advent services all month.
Peace Lutheran's Wednesday night services, which ended Dec. 18, were based on a series called "Child of Promise," which focused on how Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made through the prophets of long ago. The church will also hold a Christmas Eve worship service at 10 p.m., which will conclude with the singing of "Silent Night" by candlelight.
Timothy Buelow, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Carthage, pointed out that Advent means "coming" in Latin.
He added that there are three comings of Jesus on which his church concentrates during Advent. The initial one is Jesus' coming on the first Christmas more than 2,000 years ago.
Secondly, Buelow said, there is a time to be recognized for Jesus to come into our hearts by faith, which involves repenting of sins.
"Repentance prepares us to receive the spiritual blessing of Christmas and not be totally swept away by the secular, commercial aspects," he said.
The third coming focused on at the Carthage church is the return of Christ on the final day when he will judge the living and the dead.
Buelow agrees with Friedel in urging caution not to forget the reason for the season.
"Christmas is a wonderful season of love and giving, and I am grateful that the culture has embraced those wonderful Christmas values," said Friedel. "For those of you who celebrate the underlying reason for Christmas, though, our challenge in the current time is to make sure that the event of Christ's birth stays connected to all that he did and taught, culminating with a love so great he was willing to lay down his life for us."
Both Friedel and Buelow admit that is often a difficult task to keep their congregations from focusing on the multitude of material things surrounding us at Christmas. In fact, Friedel said he gave up several years ago trying to convince his parishioners that Christmas decorations should really only go up closer to Christmas.
However, he said, he begged them not to take their decorations down until they have had time to "unwrap the meaning of Christmas and enjoy it." For St. Peter's, he said, that means going through the celebration of Epiphany, which traditionally falls on Jan. 6 and is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the son as a human being in Jesus Christ.
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