Advent, a season of four Sundays, opens the church year. The season begins on the Sunday closest to Saint Andrew’s Day, November 30. The observance of Advent originated in France during the fourth century. The duration of the season varied from four to seven weeks until the Pope in the sixth century set the season at four weeks. In ancient times Advent was strictly observed: every Christian was required to attend church services and fast daily.
The word, Advent, consists of two Latin words: ad – venire, “To come to.” Advent’s message is that God in Christ is coming to the world. This coming may be:
1.A past experience. God did come in Christ at Christmas. The prophets’ promise was fulfilled in the Christ child.
2.A present experience. God may come to you this Christmas in terms of re-birth, either for the first time, or a renewed birth in deeper dimensions of reality.
3.A future experience. Christ will return unpredictably at the end of the world. “He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.”
The Message of Advent
Since Advent promises the sure coming of the Lord, its message is “prepare”. The Lord is coming whether the world is ready or not. For those unprepared, his coming means judgment. For those ready for his coming, it means salvation.
How does Advent suggest that we prepare?
1.Repentance – forsake the sins of the world for a godly way of life.
2.Prayer – pray for the coming of Christ, for he shall save.
3.Patience – his coming may be delayed. Watch and wait, for his coming may be sudden.
Symbolism of the Advent Wreath
There are four candles in the Advent Wreath. The first candle is the Prophecy candle, announcing the period of waiting. The second candle is the Bethlehem Candle, symbolic of the preparations being made to receive and to cradle the Christ child. The third is the Shepherd’s Candle, which typifies the act of sharing Christ. This third candle is usually a pink colour for joy. The fourth candle is the Angels’ candle of love and final coming.
Traditionally the four candles have been white, but sometimes candles of the royal colour of violet (or blue) are used and, as mentioned above, often the Shepherd’s candle is pink. When the four candles are white, there is often a red candle placed in the centre of these four to be lighted on Christmas Eve. If the candles are the violet (or blue) colour, this centre candle may be white. This centre candle is the Christ Candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve to remind us that Christ is the light of the world.
The wreath is plain, without any ornamentation of ribbon or bow. The evergreen of the wreath (a spray of fir, spruce, balsam, or pine) represents the life that is found in Christ. The greens have come from the out-of-doors where nature has begun its winter sleep. Amidst the drabness of winter nature, the evergreen branch symbolizes the continuation of life. In the home it is placed on a central table or near the hearth. In the church it is sometimes suspended above the altar or set on a high pedestal resting on the floor.