“Advent: More than Four Weeks before Christmas”
By Fr. Eric Cooter
In just a few weeks, the liturgical calendar will shift from what the Church refers to as “Ordinary Time” (the Sundays after Pentecost) to the “Season of Advent.” Advent, the four Sundays before the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, has through certain symbols, taken on some erroneous nuances of meaning and significance. One of the most obvious symbols that we are in the Advent season will be the appearance of purple vestments and banners used during worship. In addition, at the beginning of the worship we will light one of the Advent candles each week until all are lit on the last week. The first two weeks of Advent, we will light the first two purple candles, the third week we light the rose candle, and finally we light the last purple candle on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Although these traditions have significant meaning to us, Advent is much more than merely an interim season before Christmas, more than purple vestments, and much more than merely a wreath with candles on it.
Advent is about anticipation. During Advent, we await both of Christ’s comings: we anticipate His second coming in judgment, and we await the celebration of His first coming at the Nativity. There is a rich tradition associated with the Season of Advent. Originally, it was a penitential season (not unlike Lent) in which the people prepared for Christ’s coming through a period of fasting and self-examination. The purple vestments and purple candles are traditions, which we still love today, but are emblematic of the former penitential nature of the season. In its earliest observance, the third week of Advent’s rose candle was emblematic of the relaxation of the fast. Today, the penitential theme has diminished from our observances, and we now focus on the “Coming of Christ.” We will notice that in the last two weeks of Advent, the readings and hymns will focus primarily on the first coming of Christ at the Nativity and thus, differ greatly from the first two weeks.
In the first two weeks of Advent, the scripture readings, the hymns, and collects, all focus on our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The belief that Christ will return in glory is not anything new for us. We refer to His return each week when we recite the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” As Christians, we live in the hope that Christ will return to restore the Kingdom of God, to restore justice and righteousness, and to restore all creation to God’s dream for creation. We live in hope of the resurrection. This is our faith, this is our hope.
For our culture, the same four weeks before Christmas, which we call Advent, finds many of our neighbors and friends frantically hanging lights, decorating trees, running to parties, and buying presents. The anxiety of the season runs high these days. For Christians, Advent serves as a time in which we can stop the frantic nature of the upcoming season, and prepare ourselves for the Christ child who sleeps silently in the manger. It is a time for us to prepare ourselves for Christ who will return in glory, to restore all creation and establish God’s Kingdom. Advent allows Christians to walk a different path than that of the frenzied, hysterical, worried anxiety-filled holidays. Advent provides Christians a reflective moment, a four-week season in which we can sit, pray, meditate, and prepare while we wait with expectation, with exceeding hope, and overwhelming eagerness at the arrival of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.