Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year, starting four Sundays before Christmas. It is a time when we ponder the coming of Christ in time, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and at the end of time as our Judge and Redeemer. The word advent comes to us from the Latin meaning to come.
The season of Advent has been set aside as a time of preparation for Christmas since at least the last half of the 6th century. Every Advent begins the same way, with the scripture readings focusing on the end times. The readings this year move backward in time from the final end (week 1) to the promise of a messenger to prepare the way (week 2), then forward in time to the message of that messenger (week 3), and finally to the conception of Jesus (week 4).
The church offers us many ways to observe this sacred season. One is in the use of the color blue for our vestments, altar hangings, and Advent Wreath candles. Using blue (we used to use purple) is a recovery of an ancient English tradition stemming from Salisbury Cathedral, and so it is referred to as sarum blue. (Sarum being the ancient Latin name for Salisbury.) While the deep blue conveys a feeling of solemnity, because of its association with the Blessed Virgin Mary, it also conveys the Advent themes of hope and expectation.
An especially meaningful way to observe the Advent season both in the church and at home is through the use of an Advent Wreath. The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the four white candles were lit on Sundays.
The most common Advent candle tradition, however, involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle may represent something different, although traditions vary. The four candles traditionally represent hope, peace, joy, and love. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple or blue; and the third candle is rose-colored, to represent the joy of Mary. Usually, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
The Advent wreath is created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle, which has no beginning nor end, reminds us of God’s unending love for us.
The four candles are visible reminders that as the darkness of the world (literally, as well as figuratively) descends upon us, that darkness cannot overcome the light which Christ brought into the world through His incarnation
Advent Calendars are another way that we can observe the season. These have sayings or actions or readings for each day of Advent. There is an example of one in the back of the church that you may take home. There many options for Advent calendars available, and those with themes that draw us into reflection on the presence of Christ now and Christ to come offer the most promise for a meaningful experience.
There are also many print and online Advent devotional offerings. You will find a booklet of meditations and a list of online resources in the back of the church. Also, watch our Facebook page for more Advent offerings. On there now is a video from “Busted Halo” entitled “Advent in Two Minutes.”