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Advent, Christmas and Epiphany – What are they?

By: Rev. Jack Abel, MDiv, MBA, Director of Spiritual Care Services

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The Person is:
years old


graduated high school

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Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.

I’m having a great Advent this year. Some years that’s not easy, particularly now that I am not part of a regular Christian congregational ministry. In fact, it’s easy to miss the “Advent” spirit even if you are a regular participant, as the world seems to rush towards Christmas right after Halloween, and to place so much emphasis on Santa Claus and the material gifts.

One of the most interesting parts of my seminary education, involved learning about the history, development, and meanings associated with the observance of the Christian year in the northern hemisphere. There are persons who think that the way Christianity adjusted its holidays to fit the winter solstice was a kind of sellout, but today I think we can also think of it as a lovely decision to strive to bring different but related spiritual traditions together.

In the movement through Advent to Christmas, and then through 12 days of Christmas to Epiphany, the recovering person gets a chance to connect with meaningful themes of fear, hope, promise, presence, and journey (to name a few).  An overarching symbolic emphasis is on the arrival of light in darkness. A second but perhaps equally important theme is humble new birth. These are profoundly meaningful for those of us on our own recovery journeys. Even if we started a long time ago, there are passages of difficulty that come along the way. Presence, humility, and new beginnings are comfort and encouragement if this is a difficult time of year.

Each of these three seasons has its differences too – there is a complex movement from despair and fear to hope and fulfillment in Advent. Grace and solidarity come forward as additional themes in Christmas. Epiphany involves realization, insight, and a journey forward that is informed by something we have learned or experienced.

Whatever traditions are your own; there may be a similarity to the themes that come at this time of year. Hanukkah’s celebration of the persistence of light in darkness, and those who observe the solstice itself as sacred are perhaps the best examples. The similarity is not accidental, but linked to our deep connections as beings living in a cyclical reality and sharing common struggles and courage.

Take heart. Find hope even in the midst of the shortened daylight. While it may not seem yet close, spring and summer are ahead.