A dvent, a season of four Sundays, opens the church year. The season begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas (the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day, November 30) and ends on Christmas Eve. The observance of Advent originated in France during the fourth century. The duration of the season varied from four to seven weeks until the Bishop of Rome in the sixth century set the season at four weeks. In ancient times Advent was strictly observed: every Christian was required to attend church service and fast daily.
The word, Advent, consists of two Latin words: ad — venire, “to come to.” Advent’s message is that God in Christ is coming to the world. The Message of Advent is to “prepare.” The Lord is coming whether the world is ready or not. For those unprepared, his coming means judgment. For those ready for his coming, it means salvation.
How does Advent suggest that we prepare?
- Repentance — forsake the sins of the world for a godly way of life.
- Prayer – pray for the coming of Christ, for he shall save.
- Patience – his coming may be delayed. Watch and wait, for his coming may be sudden.
The Mood of Advent
- Expressed in color. The mood of Advent is expressed in the liturgical color, purple. It depicts a feeling of quiet dignity, royalty and repentance. Purple was the traditional color of a king’s robe; the coming Christ is King of kings. Advent, like Lent, is a time for solemn and sober thought about one’s sins, leading to repentance. It denotes a quiet time for watching, waiting and praying for Christ to come again, personally and universally. An alternate color for Advent is blue, the color of hope.
- Joy in hope. Advent stresses not so much fulfillment as anticipation of fulfillment: the Lord is coming! Christians have great expectations of Christ’s coming again. As a family looks forward to a son returning from a war and as a bride anticipates her wedding day, so a Christian looks forward with joy to Christ’s coming. In the quiet joy of anticipation and not the joy of celebration of a past event.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath is the widely recognized symbol of Advent. The wreath is made of a circle of evergreen branches laid flat to symbolize the endless nature of God’s love for his people. Four candles stand in the circle which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.
Traditionally, three of the candles are purple and the fourth, the “Joy” candle is pink. Blue candles may also be used to emphasize our hope in God’s promise fulfilled in the Nativity.
This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of a Messiah that weaves its way like a golden thread through Old Testament history. The Israelites yearned for a return of God’s dynamic presence in their midst. And so, God revealed to some of the prophets that indeed He would not leave His people without a true Shepherd.
First Sunday in Advent – Light the first purple candle which is the candle of hope and in some traditions prophecy because it reminds us that God foretold the coming of His Son and it represents the period of waiting.
Second Sunday in Advent – Light the first and the second purple candle which is the candle of peace and in some traditions it is called the Bethlehem Candle because it reminds of that even God prepared for the birth of His Son. The manger in Bethlehem became a cradle fit for a King.
Third Sunday in Advent – light the first two purple candles and the pink candle that is called the candle of Joy and in some traditions the Shepherds’ candle. It reminds us of the poor shepherds who were the first people to see Jesus – that we all need a shepherd and that Jesus is our shepherd. God loves all people. Some are rich and famous, but others are poor and sometimes hungry. Each has very special place in the heart of God.
Fourth Sunday in Advent – light the 4th purple of love and the pink candles. This candle is also called the Angel’s Candle. It reminds us that love came into the world when Jesus was born and represents rejoicing.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
All the candles are lit and the white candle in the centre which is Christ’s Candle – Happy Birthday dear Jesus!
Symbols of the Advent Wreath
- The Circle: God has no beginning and no end. His love is ever lasting and universal.
- Evergreens: Green is the color of hope. It is a sign of our hope and belief that the Saviour has come for us.
- Four Candles: The Chosen People of the Old Testament waited 4000 years for the coming of the Saviour. Our four weeks of Advent represent our preparation and longing for the coming of Jesus.
- Three Purple Candles: Purple is the color that symbolizes sorrow and repentance. It reminds us to return to the love and kindness of our Savior.
- One Rose or Pink Candle: Pink represents Joy. At the third Sunday of Advent we pause in the penance and rejoice in the fact that the celebration of the coming of our Saviour is almost here.
- Lighted Candle: Jesus is the Light who guides us. Each Sunday an additional candle is lit.
[St Matthews Anglican Church, B. C., Canada.]