Time of Advent

What exactly is Advent?

Introduction to the Season

Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement:

Every eye shall now behold him

robed in dreadful majesty.

(Charles Wesley)

The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation.

The characteristic note of Advent is therefore expectation, rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily coloured by an analogy with Lent.

The anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness, but the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’ (1 Corinthians 16.22). Church decorations are simple and spare, and purple is the traditional liturgical colour.

In the northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The lighting of candles on an Advent wreath was imported into Britain from northern Europe in the nineteenth century, and is now a common practice. The Moravian custom of the Christingle has similarly enjoyed great success in Britain since the latter part of the twentieth century, with the encouragement of the Children’s Society; Christingle services may take place before or after Christmas.

The Third Sunday of Advent was observed in medieval times as a splash of colour in the restrained atmosphere of Advent (Gaudete or ‘Rose Sunday’), and the last days of Advent were marked by the sequence of Great ‘O’ Antiphons, which continue to inspire modern Advent hymns and meditations

Extracted from C of E website

The History of Advent

The liturgical season of Advent marks the time of spiritual preparation by the faithful before Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30). It spans four Sundays and four weeks of preparation, although the last week of Advent is usually truncated because of when Christmas falls.

The celebration of Advent has evolved in the spiritual life of the Church. The historical origins of Advent are hard to determine with great precision. In its earliest form, beginning in France, Advent was a period of preparation for the feast of the Epiphany, a day when converts were baptized; so the Advent preparation was very similar to Lent with an emphasis on prayer and fasting which lasted three weeks and later was expanded to 40 days. In 380, the local Council of Saragossa, Spain, established a three-week fast before Epiphany. Inspired by the Lenten regulations, the local Council of Macon, France, in 581 designated that from November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, until Christmas, fasting would be required on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Eventually, similar practices spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation did not appear until the sixth century, and was viewed as a preparation for Christmas with less of a penitential bent.

The Church gradually more formalized the celebration of Advent. The Gelasian Sacramentary, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I (d. 496), was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604) enhanced these liturgies composing prayers, antiphons, readings and responses. Pope St. Gregory VII (d. 1095) later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.

Despite the “sketchy” history behind Advent, the importance of this season remains to focus on the coming of our Lord. (Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.”) The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this “coming”: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming” (No. 524).

Therefore, on one hand, the faithful reflect and are encouraged to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s first coming into this world. We ponder again the great mystery of the incarnation when our Lord humbled Himself, taking on our humanity, and entered our time and space to free us from sin. On the other hand, we recall in the Creed that our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead and that we must be ready to meet Him.

A good, pious way to help us in our Advent preparation has been the use of the Advent wreath. (Interestingly, the use of the Advent wreath was borrowed from the German Lutherans in the early 1500s.) The wreath is a circle, which has no beginning or end; so we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of God’s plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. The wreath is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death and resurrection. Three candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished. The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet our Lord.

Editor’s note: This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

Resources for Advent

Julie' sermon for the beginning of advent

Advent Sunday sermon 2017

 Advent Sunday! Four weeks to Christmas. Yippee. I love Christmas. All the lights, the decorations, the colours, the Christmas cards, Christmas presents and the food. Oh, yes, the food! But then there is always so much to do. It gets really frenetic, exhausting. Do you make lists of things to do? I find I have to, nowadays, as otherwise I forget.

My list is something like this and I expect yours is similar.  

Buy Christmas cards.

Write Christmas cards and letters.

Make the mince pies

Put up the tree

Dig out the lights from where you put them last year and check they are working. If not, make a note to buy some new ones before they all sell out.

Check the decorations for the tree. Oh! The star for the top of my tree broke last year so ……. (take out pencil and add to list) “Buy.. a.. star… for… the …Christmas… tree”

Are you ready for the visitors coming this Christmas?

Have you bought all the presents?

Have you made a list of the food for the party and then for Christmas dinner? Have you decided to have turkey this year?

And so it goes on.

Busy, busy, busy. It’s more than easy to lose sight of Advent and what it means in the hectic preparations for Christmas, with its stress, its tension and its joy.  

Advent marks the beginning of the church year and is a time of preparation for Christmas. It is supposed to be four weeks of waiting, expectation and meditation and even penitence. It used to be also a time of fasting. In some ways, it is rather like Lent. And just like Lent Roger is wearing a purple stole. Today we lit our first candle on the Advent wreath, a tradition which started in Northern Europe where at this time of year in the northern hemisphere there is more darkness than light.

There are four smaller candles and in the middle a larger one. The idea is to light a new candle each of the four Sundays until all the small ones are lit and then at Christmas we light the one in the middle. So, during the four weeks of Advent the light grows stronger. This week we lit the first candle and we think of the Patriarchs, people such as Abraham, Moses, Jacob and David, the ancestor in whose city Jesus was born. Then with the second candle we reflect on the Prophets and the way they prophesied about the coming of Jesus and in the third week we reflect on the part John the Baptist played and finally in the fourth week we focus on Mary as she was waiting for the birth of her son. Each week reminds us of those who prepared for the coming of Christ and the waiting and there is more light.  

But it’s not just the Advent wreath which points us in the direction of the birth of Jesus, the readings in Advent are challenging, directing us not only to the first coming of Jesus but also to His second coming at the end of time, this time in judgment.

We heard two readings today. The first was from St Paul’s epistle to the Romans written to churches in Rome, which were already established even before Paul visited them. Both St Paul and St Matthew believed that Jesus would return quite soon and it will be the end of the whole world or perhaps the end of our own personal world and so we must be ready.

At my own confirmation, the bishop pointed out that the collect for Advent Sunday is the only collect to contain the word “now” twice. Does this mean that we should take stock of our lives now … not at some time in the future? In Romans, St Paul wrote “it is high time to awake out of sleep, cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light”.

The second reading from St Matthew’s Gospel is about the sheer unexpectedness of events. No one, not even the angels know when it is going to happen. He refers back to Noah and how before the flood people were eating and drinking and not caring about anything and they took no notice of what God was saying through Noah. So, when the flood came they were all washed away. The passage we heard today comes just before the parable of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom. Five of the virgins didn’t bother about having enough oil for their lamps and so missed the arrival of the bridegroom. They were not prepared. Perhaps that puts today’s reading into context.

What does this all mean for us now? How can we stop being washed away? How can we put on an armour of light? Well, I think it is all about relationships:

firstly, our relationship with God, through Jesus. Relationships depend on communication and in this case, it means prayer. Sometimes personal prayer is hard and very difficult. It should involve listening rather than a wish list although it is always good to bring before God our concerns. Praying is a bit like being still in the presence of God. It’s not easy but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Our archbishop Justin Welby spoke about prayer when he was interviewed for “Desert Island Discs”. He told listeners he often prays when doing the ironing. So, it really doesn’t matter where you are or really what you are doing, so long as you pray. There are many excellent books and websites which can be really helpful.

Secondly, we meet God through our relationships with other people. We meet Jesus in each other because God is incarnate in this world. He is here, with us. And God loves us just as we should love each other. We should see Jesus in the face of those we know and love but also in the face of a stranger. We should even meet hate with love.

(God appeared as a human being, in poverty stricken circumstances, in a small country, with a corrupt government which was collaborating with the Romans.)

However, there is another message in the passage from St Matthew’s Gospel and that is hope. Although so much of life is uncertain and unpredictable, not only on a personal level but on a national one too we should have hope. We are often caught off guard by something that has happened in our lives, unexpectedly, sometimes joyfully, but often not. We are knocked “off kilter”. But we do not have to fear the future and face it alone. Jesus is with us in all life’s adversities as well as the good times. He is with us and he has come for us.

As we light the Advent candles, as the days grow shorter and nights become longer we do not face the darkness alone. God is with us. “Grow our relationship with God”. Perhaps that should go at the top of our Christmas “to do” list.

May you have a good Advent. 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight: O Lord our strength and our redeemer.


The Advent Prose

Pour down, O heavens, from above,

and let the skies rain down righteousness.

Turn your fierce anger from us, O Lord,

and remember not our sins for ever.

Your holy cities have become a desert,

Zion a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation;

our holy and beautiful house,

where our ancestors praised you.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,

and let the skies rain down righteousness.

We have sinned and become like one who is unclean;

we have all withered like a leaf,

and our iniquities like the wind have swept us away.

You have hidden your face from us,

and abandoned us to our iniquities.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,

and let the skies rain down righteousness.

You are my witnesses, says the Lord,

and my servant whom I have chosen,

that you may know me and believe me.

I myself am the Lord, and none but I can deliver;

what my hand holds, none can snatch away.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,

and let the skies rain down righteousness.

Comfort my people, comfort them;

my salvation shall not be delayed.

I have swept your offences away like a cloud;

fear not, for I will save you.

I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,

your redeemer.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,

and let the skies rain down righteousness.

The Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath has four red or blue candles in a ring around a white or gold candle. Alternatively, there may be three purple candles, reflecting the liturgical colour for Advent, with a pink candle for the Third Sunday, when rose-pink vestments are traditionally worn. The first candle is lit on Advent Sunday; additional ones are lit, one on each Sunday, and the white or gold one on Christmas Day.

The new candle each week may appropriately be lit during the Prayers of Penitence. In this case the material entitled ‘Prayers of Penitence at the Advent Wreath’ is used. Alternatively, the candles may be lit after the Gospel Reading, before the Peace, or after Communion, where the prayer(s) used at the lighting becomes a natural Post-Communion prayer. All five candles may appropriately be alight during services through the Christmas season.

There are several traditions about the meaning or theme of each candle. The scheme that accords best with the Common Worship Principal Service Lectionary is:

Advent 1 The Patriarchs

Advent 2 The Prophets

Advent 3 John the Baptist

Advent 4 The Virgin Mary Christmas Day The Christ

Each of the four Sundays then reminds us of those who prepared for the coming of Christ. ‘The Patriarchs’ can naturally focus on Abraham, our father in faith, and David, the ancestor in whose city Jesus was born. ‘The Prophets’ gives an opportunity to reflect on the way the birth of the Messiah was ‘foretold’. John, who proclaimed the Saviour, and Mary, who bore him in her womb, complete the picture.