Seasons come and go as the year quickly spins its circle, but for Christians the season that begins this Sunday is one of the most important. The season of Advent begins Sunday, Nov. 27 and will be celebrated the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Traditions vary with denominations but the meaning of the season still focuses on the preparation of Christ’s arrival into the world nearly 2000 years ago and the anticipation of his return in the future.
According to Dr. Louie Andrews, pastor of Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church, Clinton, Advent originated during the time of the early church. Advent was a three-week fast in preparation for Baptism at Epiphany, for the early church the baptism of Jesus ministry and his eventual reign as judge. “It was a very solemn time of prayer and reflection. If we still observed Advent in this manner, it would begin Dec. 16 and end on Epiphany, which is Jan. 6. I cannot imagine that flying in this age of Santa Claus and ‘Happy Holidays,’” asserted Andrews.
At some point in time, Advent moved before the birth. Perhaps that coincided with a shift in the importance from the baptism of Jesus to the birth. Regardless, today Advent begins on the Sunday after Christ the King Sunday of the liturgical calendar and is celebrated on the four Sundays before Christmas. “It is seen as a season of joy and hope anticipating the fulfillment of the rule of God in Christ’s coming in the future,” added the pastor. The first Sunday of Advent also marks the first Sunday of the liturgical year.
While various denominations mark the Advent season with a variety of symbolisms and definitions in the weeks preceding Christmas, the purpose holds similar meanings. In Advent, Christians expectantly wait for one who has already come. Andrews explains that it is a time when we rely heavily on the Isaiah messianic passages which yearn for a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares, the lion and lamb will live in harmony and a child will lead us.
“We hope for this day of restoration for the afflicted and the grieving. For some reason it seems like a paradox. In Advent it seems that we are calling for the birth of Christ. Actually Advent uses messianic language to remember the birth of Jesus and long for the Second Coming of Christ. In essence, Advent is waiting for the One who has already come,” explained Andrews.
One of the main emphasis of the Advent season focuses around the Advent Wreath. It is the main element of the observance. The symbolism of the wreath is very forceful. It is constructed of a circle which represent the unending love and presence of God and Christ in the lives of Christians. The wreath is also made with evergreen which symbolizes the eternal life given by Christ. Normally the wreath is comprised of four candles, three which are purple and one which is pink or rose-colored. The candles represent hope, peace, joy and love. In the center of the wreath is the Christ candle which is lit on Christmas Eve. Andrews shared that to the best of his understanding this tradition began with the Lutherans.
The use of the Advent Wreath is not restricted to corporate worship in a church. Family or individual wreaths may be used as the family or individual spends personal time reflecting on the season and prepares for the coming of Christ.
Music also plays an important role in the Advent tradition. For church members not accustomed to the Advent tradition, these songs often are a bit more somber and are often received somewhat less enthusiastically than the music most Christians think of when thinking of Christmas music.
“These traditional songs of Advent are reflective and create a sense of preparation. Strict adherence to the Christian calender calls for the carols of Christmas, such as ‘Silent Night, Joy to the World, etc.’ to be sung during the 12 days of Christmas, which begins on Christmas Day. Most churches are not comfortable with this and the carols usually find their way into our church services during the season of Advent,” remarked Andrews.
Regardless of how you individually observe the Advent season, it is important for Christians to take the season to heart and take time away from all the hustle and rush that the holidays can bring to remember what the true reason for the season is. Advent should be a time when all Christians take time to pause, reflect, meditate and remember that God sent his son as a baby for the salvation of the world and to look forward with anticipation for Christ’s Second Coming.