Advent is a time of preparation and anything worthwhile takes preparation. Christmas/Epiphany and Easter are the two great festivals of the Christian year and each are preceded by a prolonged penitential season. The main principle is fast before feast. Advent is a season of preparation for one long festival that begins on Christmas Eve, continues through the twelve days of Christmas and ends on Epiphany.
The history of a penitential season before Christmas/Epiphany goes back to at least the forth century in Gaul where it was originally called St. Martin’s Lent as evidenced in the writings of St. Hilary. In the Lectionary of St. Jerome there are Collects, Epistles, and Gospels appointed for the season. While it is recognized in the Eastern Church as the Fast of St. Philip or the Nativity Fast, in the Western Church since the time of St. Gregory the Great it has been known as the season of Advent.
The name Advent is a translation of the Latin word Adventus which means "coming." Advent always begins on the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day which is Nov. 30th. This year St. Andrew’s fall on Sunday so it’s moved to Dec. 1st and Advent begins on Nov. 30th. Advent, as the name suggests, is a time where our thoughts and devotion turn to Christ’s coming. The primary focus is on Christ’s coming in the flesh, but there are themes of His coming at the Last Day as well as His coming in Word and Sacrament.
The following quote contains some encouraging words for those who may be new to the idea of observing Advent.
"Many families use an Advent calendar to mark the days leading up to Christmas as a wonderful way to engage children and all family members in the anticipation of the birth of Jesus.
Another widely used symbol of Advent is the Advent wreath. Advent wreaths are made of evergreen branches shaped in a circular pattern and decorated with five candles of varying colors, depending on tradition, to be lit on each of the four Sundays of Advent.
Three candles are purple or blue, a fourth is rose-colored or pink, and a fifth one placed in the center of the wreath on Christmas Day can be either white or red.
The purple or blue represents the royalty of Christ our King. On the third or fourth Sunday of Advent, the pink candle is used as a symbol of joy for the coming feast of Christmas. The wreath denotes God’s unending love, and the candles represent Jesus, the light of the world.
Sacramental Christians appreciate the ebb and flow of the church calendar, especially the preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent. Advent is a time for somber reflection on our own lives as well as on the amazing act of God’s Incarnation, God’s breaking into history through the birth of his Son, Jesus.
It is a time for deepened prayer and special meditations on the season. There are many wonderful books available for use during Advent that are written with special prayers and daily meditations.
One can worship in a church that is not liturgical, and surely the Holy Spirit moves Christians deeply in those settings. But there is a marked return to traditional Christian practices, including the use of ritual and the observance of the church calendar, which is occurring in certain Protestant churches, especially evangelical and non-denominational churches.
Traditional Christian practices have the potential to deepen faith and create links to other fellow Christians and Christian history.
The cover story of U.S. News & World Report magazine from Dec. 24, 2007, was titled "A Return to Ritual." Among other examples, the article cited an evangelical pastor in Texas who began using liturgy and other Christian traditions to help members deepen their spirituality by adopting practices such as weekly celebration of the Eucharist, reciting the Nicene Creed and using a church calendar.
Our spiritual lives should be vital and dynamic, reflecting our new life in Christ. Could some churches be missing out on new ways to deepen members’ spirituality through "the sustaining power of liturgical observance?
Does your church observe the season of Advent?" ~ Paul Greve - Eucharistic minister, verger and Christian education teacher at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, IN.
Fast before Feast; anticipation before celebration; penitential rather than festive. That means no Christmas candy or Christmas tree until Christmas Eve! Instead, try to implement prayer, Bible reading, and works of mercy as part of your Advent devotion; and Communion on Sundays if possible. The Book of Common Prayer is a valuable resource for Advent prayer and Bible reading.