I know we have already experienced Black Friday and Cyber Monday (week), but this Sunday actually marks the beginning of the Church Liturgical Year and the season of Advent. Advent is derived from a Latin term meaning “coming” or “arriving.” It’s the four Sundays prior to Christmas in which Christians around the world prepare themselves for the arrival of the child promised in the scriptures.
For those who prepare for Christmas with an Advent wreath, here are some thoughts as you light the successive candles this year:
The prophet Isaiah wrote in around 750 B.C., “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” (IS 7:14). And later, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (IS 9:2,6).
These prophecies are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. As we move toward the celebration of Christ’s birth, we prepare our hearts for his arrival. The first Sunday is traditionally referred to as the Sunday of Hope. We put our hope in the fact that this world and this life aren’t all there is. We are not left to the whims of the culture in which we live, nor to the best ideas our fellow humans have to offer.
(If that were the case, we would surely be in dire straits!) No, in this first week of the new church year, we focus on the hope we have in God. Acknowledging that we are insignificant in comparison to him is the first step in beginning the church year. (This is a purple candle on your wreath).
This profound hope in God leads us to the second Sunday of Advent, Preparation Sunday. We prepare our hearts during this second week to welcome God by examining our conscience, our lives, our attitudes and turning from those things that take us from God’s love for us. (Another purple candle.)
The third Sunday is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a French word meaning “rejoice.” Having prepared our hearts, we now rejoice that God has broken into this twisted, mixed-up world in order to bring us back into relationship with him. The readings for this Sunday center around Mary and her joy in receiving the news that she would give birth to the savior of the world, represented by the pink candle.
The fourth and final day (Dec. 24 this year) is Love Sunday.
The culmination of God’s plan to redeem humanity was motivated by love. He didn’t have to present his only son as a sacrifice for sins he didn’t commit, he did so because of love. We hope, we prepare and we rejoice because of love (and light the last purple candle.)
Indeed, love himself arriving in the world is why Christmas is celebrated (and why the white, center candle is lit on Christmas Eve). I pray that this year you experience this divine love as you prepare your hearts for his arrival. Have a holy and blessed Advent!
Kevin Jones is a reverend at Grace Anglican Church.