The season of Advent prepares Christians for the celebration of Christmas and the birth of the Christ child.
In the Midlands, that means the coming days will include special services, musical performances and festivals to mark this time of waiting.
Advent Sunday, which this year fell Dec. 1, is the beginning of the Western liturgical year. The term comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming. In the Eastern Orthodox church, the Nativity Fast, a period of abstinence and penance, prepares Eastern Christians for Christmas. The Nativity Fast is observed between Nov. 15 and Dec. 24.
For the Rev. Brad Smith, senior pastor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Advent represents a time for his congregants to be still and engage in reflection even as they participate in seasonal outreach efforts, including packing food for needy families, enjoying home rituals like decorating their Christmas trees and participating in special worship.
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“We try to have some deliberate and international opportunities for giving beyond ourselves as well as the worship opportunities, and then to provide resources to help people to choose to manage the pace rather than letting the pace manage them,” Smith said.
“There is a balance — you can add to the problem and it is ultimately up to each of us to say, OK, this is a time of preparing, of anticipation and that expectant waiting. For us, it shouldn’t be just about opening gifts under the tree, but the greatest gift of the Messiah.”
He said his church, like many others, engages in an old tradition of writing a day-by-day advent devotional, which is distributed to the congregation.
“Our members are writing it and it is just so neat to hear a word of wisdom from a different person each day from the pews.”
This Saturday, Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in West Columbia will hold its annual St Nicholas Festival and Christmas Russian Fair, 10 a.m.-4p.m.
From the concert of ancient Christian hymns to the sampling of traditional ethnic foods and the presence of St. Nick, the festival provides an opportunity for people to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the season. Admission is free but there will be food and handcrafted holiday items for sale, with proceeds to benefit local charities.
Holy Apostles recently installed a new cross, dome and bell tower that will stand out as a “candle on the hill,” the Rev. Thomas Moore said. During the festival, the bells will chime, he said.
The choir and orchestra of Shandon United Methodist Church will fill the sanctuary with beautiful music as the church presents its Moravian Love Feast, at 5 p.m. Dec. 15.
The sharing of bread, coffee and fellowship, a custom brought to the United States by the Moravians and introduced to the Methodist church by founder John Wesley, has become an annual tradition for church members and presents a reverent, quiet time to reflect on the coming of Christ child.
Shandon United Methodist Church also is presenting a Christmas concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 with Eddie Huss & Friends that will benefit the Family Shelter.
An annual Advent favorite, the Sing-Along Messiah will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at Washington Street United Methodist Church. There, an overflow crowd comes together with orchestra and choirs to sing portions of Handel’s great work.
“It is a service of worship that celebrates the story of Christ that evolves from prophecy, migrates into waiting and anticipation, and culminates with the arrival of the Christ child,” said Angela Powers, Washington Street’s music director. “Handel’s beloved musical setting of the biblical text makes for a very meaningful experience for those that are seeking to celebrate a more spiritual Advent.”
Powers, who produces and directs the Sing-Along Messiah along with her husband, Davis Powers, said nothing quite prepares someone for the power of the event.
“When you get there and everybody starts singing, your heart just feels like it is going to burst,” she said.
The choir of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church is presenting choral evensong each Wednesday of Advent at 6 p.m. The ancient form of worship provides a time to slow down amid the holiday rush. The church is also holding an Advent Festival Sunday , 9-10:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., offering for sale homemade baked goods and artisan items to benefit the church’s outreach commission.