I suspect most rituals don’t start out as such. They’re just something you do, then you do them again, and eventually it’s hard to see not doing them.

A few years ago, on the First Sunday of Advent, during the Hanging of the Greens, I walked around the sanctuary with the children, explaining the background and the meaning of the decorations that our church family was placing around the room. I liked doing it, seeing their attentive faces, and realizing that the adults were probably getting more out of it than they might have if I hadn’t been careful about using words that kids would understand.

And the next year it was suggested I do it again, and now it is either a tradition or a ritual — you choose the term. Either way, we’ll do it again this Sunday as we prepare our worship space for the Advent Season. We’ll see what happens next year, but for now it’s our ritual.

For us Baptists, unaccustomed as we are to formal liturgical terms, Advent is often a misunderstood time in the Christian Year. After all, it coincides with the time before Christmas, and as both the commercial and traditional emphases on that season extend back almost to Halloween, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

But Advent is intended to be a time that looks beyond Christmas — the first coming of the Savior — to the future coming of the Messiah. Whether that means an in-breaking of God’s Spirit at the end of the world, or the coming of Christ at the point of your death, it is something for which we need to be prepared. Thus Advent is a time of watchfulness and preparation, a time to be shaken out of our lethargy and complacency and to be reminded that our time of preparation could end at any time.

I won’t be sharing that sober message with the children this Sunday. (“Remember, kids, we’re all going to die!”) We’ll focus on God sending the Son into the world, both to show us God’s love and to show us how to live. But even as we talk about the decorations that remind us of the original Christmas story — the Creche’, the poinsettias, the trees, and all the rest — we grown-ups need to be prepared, both for seeing God’s work in the world, and for the culmination of our lives as we are one day taken back into the arms of God.