What is the Season of Advent?

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Advent is the season that leads up to Christmas and begins on the fourth Sunday before the day that we mark the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, in some years Advent begins as early as November 27 or as late as December 3. Advent is Latin for “coming” or what Christians recognize as the birth of Jesus Christ — when God first dwelt with man.

 

Advent star

Advent star (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Western Churches

The Advent season is celebrated by some Western churches including Roman and most mainline Protestant denominations. The season is for the remembrance of the first coming of Jesus Christ while also reminding believers to be alert for His second Advent or coming.

Advent Calendars

There are numerous traditions that mark the Advent season. One that most people are familiar with is the Advent calendar, what marks a countdown of sorts to Christmas. Each day, children open up a calendar door to find a picture or a prize behind it — sometimes both — with the grandest doors reserved for December 24 or 25. Such calendars typically start on Dec. 1 and may run through Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Advent wreath with one rose candle and three p...

Advent wreath with one rose candle and three purple candles, all lit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some calendars feature a religious theme, with stars, shepherds and wise men featured. Other calendars offer a more secular theme with toys, presents and Santa Claus offered. Advent calendars are sold at bookstores and other retail shops with some people preferring to make their own.

Advent Wreathes

Churches may mark Advent by lighting candles on an advent wreath or crown. Some say that the greenery represents eternal life with each candle marking 1,000 years in mankind’s history from Adam and Eve up to the birth of our Savior.

Three candles are typically purple, representing prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices with a rose candle representing rejoicing. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent according to the Catholic Education Resource Center. Some churches place a white candle in the middle signifying the Christ Candle, lighting that candle on Christmas Day. There is an order of candle lighting and churches will offer a scripture reading at the same time.

Eastern Churches

As there are variations in the way that people mark the Advent season, there are also differences amongst churches. For Orthodox Christians, Advent parallels Lent in practice. Just as Lent is a 40-day celebration leading up to Easter, Advent is a 40-day period prior to Nativity. Seven Sundays of Advent are marked, with green, blue, gold, white, purple, red and white candles featured on advent wreathes. These candles represent in order: faith, hope, love, peace, repentance, Holy Communion and the Lord’s coming. Related scripture are read; the culmination of the Orthodox Advent is also on Christmas Day.

Is celebrating Advent a good thing? It can be, especially if it helps you to focus on the coming of Jesus Christ. In this increasingly secular world, symbols of our faith can strengthen us as they point people to the One who has given Himself as a sacrifice for us and will one day return to establish His kingdom forevermore.

Hallelujah! The Lord is Come!

References

Catholic Education Resource Center: The History of the Advent Wreath; Fr. William Saunders

Saint John the Evangelist Orthodox Church: Orthodox Advent Wreath

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