The Christian church operates on a different calendar from the rest of the world. Sunday marked the beginning of a new church year. The year begins with the season of Advent.
Advent is different from Christmas. Advent is derived from the Latin word, “adventus,” which means “arrival” or “coming.” Advent is the anticipation of the coming of God into our lives. We often think of Advent as the coming of Christ into our lives: the first coming, or the birth of Christ, and the second coming, or the reign of Christ. It would be more appropriate to think of Advent as the coming of God into our lives. Christ always points to God for Christians. The first coming is the incarnation of God through the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. We celebrate that God has broken into our lives in a new way. The second coming is the fulfillment of creation through the kingdom of God, when God’s vision of justice and shalom are fully realized in the world.
The sanctuary traditionally is decorated with an Advent wreath and a Christmas tree. An Advent wreath is a circle of evergreen branches that are intertwined. It has no beginning and no end. It represents God’s time, eternity, while the green symbolizes life, growth and hope.
There are five candles in the Advent wreath. Four candles on the perimeter of the wreath represent the four Sundays of Advent. The Christ candle, the large, white candle in the middle, is lit on Christmas Eve.
The coming of Christ into the world also means the coming of hope, peace, joy and love. These are additional themes that are lifted up on the four Sundays of Advent and are represented by the four candles on the perimeter of the Advent wreath.
The Christmas tree was originally conceived as a tree of paradise. It represents the Garden of Eden, the tree of life, and the tree upon which Christ was crucified.
The liturgical color for Advent is purple, which signifies royalty. Purple also is associated with penitence and mourning in Lent. As an alternative to the color purple, the Church also recognizes the color blue as appropriate for Advent. This helps separate the themes of Advent and Lent and encourages us to think of Advent as a time of expectancy. Blue is the color of the sky (“the Son of Man will descend on a cloud of power and glory”) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (mother of the incarnate Son of God).
Each of the four Sundays of Advent highlights a different aspect of the coming of Christ. The first Sunday anticipates the second coming of Christ, when Christ will return and bring in the kingdom or reign of God on earth. The second and third Sundays feature texts about John the Baptist — God speaks through the prophet John and exhorts the people to prepare for the ministry of Christ. On the fourth Sunday of Advent we turn to the birth of Jesus.
Advent is a season of joy and expectancy. We should not rush to the manger of the baby Jesus. We sing Advent hymns on the first three Sundays of Advent before we turn to Christmas carols on the fourth Sunday.
Advent climaxes in Protestant and Catholic churches with worship services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
We can never fully grasp the mystery of God’s incarnation among us, nor can we resolve the tensions between the ways of the world and the ways of God. This is the season to remember and experience anew God’s advent among us; we celebrate it each year, year after year.
DON HEATH is pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church. He may be reached at email@example.com.