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Advent and Vespers

Why we mark and celebrate Advent

Advent simply means ‘coming.’ Historically, the Church has set aside the season marked by the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day as a time to mark our waiting for his coming. We sing songs, light candles, read and preach Scripture with dual attitudes. On the one hand, we try to feel the desperate need and longing for God’s promised King to come and set his people fully and finally free. We listen to the prophecies and fight for hope like our fathers and mothers of old. On the other hand, we are the people who live on the other side of the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. We are the people who believe and live as if God did, in fact, come into the world as a man of flesh and blood. For us, then, while we mark the initial advent as entrance, we spend this month teaching our hearts to practice waiting and wanting his second advent to draw near.

When it’s done poorly, Advent can be either shallow sentimentality or sterile repetition. When it’s practiced worshipfully and meaningfully, it can mold and shape us in beautiful ways. In our society of excess, in a culture of now, waiting on and longing for the Lord to come marks us as a people set apart and trains our eyes as we look beyond the twinkling lights on the tree to him. We look to Jesus at Advent to remind ourselves, and one another, that just as God came unexpectedly to inaugurate his Kingdom, so shall he unexpectedly come again to consummate it in our midst.

There are some things we do during this time to spur one another to careful consideration, towards a lifestyle of repentance, and to prepare our souls to abound in joyous celebration at God’s overwhelming grace in the Coming Christ. We have weekly worship that is accentuated in the decked out sanctuary with banners of our Wonderful Counselor and greenery, we sing hymns and carols that lend us borrowed words and tunes to retell our story of rescue, we have various families light our wreath and read us passages of God’s Word, we soak up times of fellowship and dinner together, and this year, we will also offer a midweek Advent Vespers service Wednesday nights.

What are Vespers

Vesper is a Latin word for the Greek word ἑσπέρα (hespera) which translates “evening.” In our rich history, the Church, has followed a marked liturgical calendar and even liturgical days. The evening prayer service, or evensong, came to be known as vespers. The practice remains fairly common in many Christian traditions but it has not always been a consistent service within the Presbyterian tradition. We are not seeking to alter our Presbyterian tradition but rather learn from and lean into the great traditions of the Church through the ages as we listen to their wisdom and learn to honor Christ through this ancient tradition.

In these abbreviated services, a pared down liturgy will be followed. This service will feel both similar and strange to longtime CPCers. Most of our elements of worship will still be present though shorter in length than we are accustomed to. The worship space will not be a brightly lit. Some of our pastors may be in their clerical robes. The music will be simplified, and the mood a little quieter and more reserved than our typical Sunday morning service. This is a different time of year and we will mark it with a different spirit in our worship for the 4 Wednesday evenings leading up to Christmas. These special services do not signal a shift in our regular observance of Lord’s Day worship, but are meant to supplement and enhance our experience of waiting for his advent through this season.