Local Christians soon will commemorate Advent, a time of reflection and expectation.
Advent, which means “coming” or “arrival,” is the season leading up to the celebration of Christmas. During the season, which this year lasts from Dec. 2-Dec. 22, Christians celebrate Christ’s coming into the world and watch with expectant hope for his second coming, according to the Catholic Conference of Bishops.
Related devotions remind the faithful of the meaning of the season. They include the lighting of the Advent wreath, the Advent calendar (a reminder of the season with daily thoughts and activities) and Advent prayers that prepare Christians spiritually for the birth of Jesus Christ.
Traditionally, Advent wreaths are constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which four candles are inserted, representing the four weeks of Advent. Ideally, three candles are purple and one is rose, but white candles also can be used.
The purple candles symbolize the prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday), when priests also wear rose vestments at Mass. Gaudete Sunday is a time of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas.
The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding Christ’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming as judge.
Regarding the present form of the nativity, its custom of displaying figures depicting the birth of Jesus dates to the time of St. Francis of Assisi, who made the Christmas crèche or manger for Christmas Eve of 1223.
Historically, the season was patterned after the season of Lent, a six-week period of penitence and preparation for Easter. The four weeks of Advent present an opportunity for communal discernment and personal examination, as the church prepares to celebrate Christ’s birth and awaits his return.
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