Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, the First Sunday in Advent in particular.
According to the article ADVENT 101 (from the Lutheran website Higher Things):
"The church year in the West begins with with a preparatory season called “Advent.” The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “appearing” or “coming,” referring to the appearing of a great king or even a god. In Christian usage, it refers to the appearing of Jesus Christ in two ways - His first appearing as the Child born of the Virgin Mary and His second appearing in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. You see, Advent isn’t only about getting ready for Christmas; it’s also about getting ready for Jesus’ final appearing in glory only the Last Day. Advent is a season of quiet anticipation, expectation, and sober patience. Sadly, our instant gratification culture seems to have had more influence on the Church than the Church has had on the surrounding culture. Advent has been gobbled up by the frenzy of the “winter holidays,” which now begin after Halloween! By the time Christmas arrives, most are too weary to worship and too burned out from decking the halls to celebrate the birth of the world’s Savior with any degree of joy much less energy.
Remember, Christmas is a twelve day feast >beginning< on December 25th. In celebrating Advent in all its somber, sober watchfulness, we Christians can give a priceless gift to each other and to the world by showing the patient hope we have in Jesus’ coming.
Advent has four distinct Sundays themed by the readings from the holy Gospel:
- The 1st Sunday in Advent focuses on Christ’s appearing in glory with the image of His triumphal ride into Jerusalem as the messianic King.
- The 2nd Sunday brings John the Baptizer’s prophetic voice calling Israel out to the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
- The 3rd Sunday again focuses on John the Baptizer, this time on the content of his preaching of repentance and his greatness as the forerunner of the Messiah.
- The 4th Sunday emphasizes Jesus’ immaculate conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. During the final week of Advent, it is customary to pray the “O Antiphons” from December 17 to December 23, a series of ancient prayers addressed to Christ in terms of Old Testament prophesy.
The season has its own peculiar customs and traditions. One cherished tradition is the Advent wreath. This evergreen wreath with four candles is a tradition from northern Europe. Each candle stands for one of the four Sundays in Advent. The closed circle is a symbol of God’s eternality. Like the circle, our Lord is without beginning and without end. The evergreen branches represent the eternal life that is ours through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a life that transcends death itself.
Each successive week in Advent, another candle is lit. Sometimes smaller candles or little red berries are added to count off the days between Sundays. At Christmas Eve, the Advent wreath is replaced with a single white Christ candle, signifying the appearing of Christ in the world." We recommend reading the entire ADVENT 101 article, even if only as a refresher. Let it help you and your family prepare for this time of prayerful anticipation as we start another church year.