I was struck again this morning in church by the description of the Advent banners; the predominant color is purple, the color of penitence and mourning. It's not the glittering light and color we see in the stores. The world of commerce loves Christmas but hasn't a clue what to do with Advent other than as the four weeks of last-minute shopping leading up to Christmas. But penitence? Mourning? The world says, "Yes! Buy that expensive toy! You deserve it!" The simple message of Advent is that we do not.
The first section of the Heidelberg Catechism fits Advent beautifully. Advent and the Catechism present us with a hard truth: We need to be saved. Christmas is a big deal precisely because without it we are lost.
Section one of the Catechism is inelegantly titled, "Misery."
  • How do you come to know your misery? The Law of God tells me.
  • What does the Law of God require? That I love God above all and my neighbor as myself.
  • Can you live up to all this perfectly? No, I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.
The classic mnemonic for the three sections of the Catechism is "Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude." I like to think of the three sections as "The mess we're in", "What God has done to get us out of the mess we're in", and "Now that God has gotten us out of our mess, how we are to live out our gratitude to him."
The church year, from Advent and Christmas to Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday and Easter and on to Pentecost and beyond, rehearses the biblical drama of guilt, grace and gratitude by leading us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the life of the early church, gifted with and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Advent is where it begins. We need to be saved. Christmas is coming. The Lord has raised up for us a mighty Savior. Hallelujah!