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A longer Advent helps some Christians prepare for more than Christmas

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Christmas trees and other holiday decor sprouted up in some places this year even before Halloween. And while many people want to resist this early holiday creep, some churches take a different approach and expand the season known as Advent. NPR's religion and belief correspondent, Jason DeRose, tells us why it's about much more than preparing for a holiday.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Typically, Advent is observed during the four weeks leading up to Christmas. But when he was a campus chaplain in Boston, Cameron Partridge realized how expanding Advent to seven weeks nurtured students.

CAMERON PARTRIDGE: You know, you've got the end of the semester. You've got finals, preparation to leave for home. So Advent barely got to be observed. So this gave an opportunity to actually really be present together and to observe it together, which could be grounding in a time of great intensity.

DEROSE: A grounding Partridge brought with him when he came to St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

PARTRIDGE: Good morning, St. Aidan's.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Good morning.

PARTRIDGE: And welcome to Advent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you.

PARTRIDGE: The season prepares for and locates us within the coming of the divine reign - the dream of God.

DEROSE: Partridge says that Advent theme of divine reign, rather than a simple prelude to Christmas, is more poignant this year, given the conflict in the Holy Lands.

PARTRIDGE: We can't pretend that everything is fine. There is tumult in the world, and it is real. And it is hard, and it is deeply affecting people.

DEROSE: People who need assurance that Advent resists violence and earthly powers.

BILL PETERSEN: The real emphasis of this season is on the pursuit of justice and peace. And in the world we live in right now, you can't get more relevant than that.

DEROSE: Bill Petersen is the retired dean of the Episcopal seminary, Bexley Hall. He's been at the forefront of expanding Advent beyond anticipation of Jesus in the manger to the hope for a just and peaceful world described by the Hebrew prophets.

PETERSEN: Maybe Advent has an integrity of its own, and it's not just a ramp-up to Christmas or countdown.

SUZANNE WENONAH DUCHESNE: We get all these other images of God, really - the wisdom of God, the the shepherding image, which is very different from on a throne - much more humble and very loving, if you really think about it.

DEROSE: Methodist minister Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne teaches worship and preaching. She says the images of God found in Advent liturgy - wisdom, root, key, dawn - resist thinking of the divine solely as a triumphant king.

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DEROSE: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago is also ushering in the Advent theme of God's hope for the world, evident as Pastor Michelle Sevig leads worship.

MICHELLE SEVIG: Oh, God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your son.

DEROSE: And evident in the way, says Pastor Craig Mueller, scripture, song and prayer shape his congregation at Holy Trinity.

CRAIG MUELLER: It's too bad that many people equate Christianity with doctrines and beliefs in the head rather than what ritual could do to form us with the passages of time and what it means to be human.

DEROSE: Humans formed to persevere through the sorrow of violence and rejoice in the hope of peace, says Cameron Partridge at St. Aidan's in San Francisco.

PARTRIDGE: Advent, in its dwelling in the already and the not yet, can ground and strengthen us in all of that uncertainty and help give us a sense from out of that grounding and ability to connect.

DEROSE: Connect across difference in a war-ravaged world that's not yet the one for which God longs.

Jason DeRose, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.