The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and lasts right up until Christmas Day. The first Sunday of Advent also marks the beginning of the church calendar and so in some ways it is like New Year’s Day on the regular calendar. It brings a similar sense of expectation as believers anticipate the advent (coming / arrival) of Jesus.
These four weeks of Advent include a focus both on the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmas, and also the future coming of Jesus as ruler and judge. (See references in Isaiah, Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter.)
In either case, Advent is all about waiting and preparing our hearts to receive.
Many families celebrate Advent with a calendar or a candle that marks off each day of Advent, heightening this sense of anticipation.
Anglican church services will often use an Advent wreath with four candles, one of which is lit each of the four Sundays, along with a special reading, prayer or song for that day. There are regional differences in the colour of the candles and the theme of each week, but often you will find the following pattern:
· The theme of week one is hope. A purple candle is lit.
· The theme of week two is peace. Another purple candle is lit.
· The theme of week three is joy. Sometimes on week three the candle is pink.
· The theme of week four is love. A final purple candle is lit.
Finally, some churches will also have a white candle in the middle of the wreath, which is lit on Christmas Day.
The season of Advent in the church calendar sometimes puts activities in the church at odds with activities common in western culture. We’re used to seeing Christmas decorations in stores as early as October! We often decorate Christmas trees in our homes several weeks before Christmas Day, and we hear Christmas carols throughout December. However, strictly speaking in the church calendar, the Christmas season, which ends the Advent season, only begins on Christmas Day. This is why many churches choose songs through Advent that emphasize waiting, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and hold off on the more celebratory carols such as “Joy to the World” until Christmas Day arrives.
However you mark the four weeks before Christmas, we encourage you to consider the invitation to savour the waiting, the expectation, the anticipation that Advent offers.