As I write this, it is November 30. The last Sunday of the church year, Christ the King Sunday, was last Sunday. Sunday, December 2, is the First Sunday in Advent. The word “Advent” is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”
There are six seasons in the church year. They are the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
The first season is Advent, which begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on the day before Christmas Eve. Advent has been observed since 490 A.D. when it was decreed by Bishop Perpetuus of Tours. During Advent, we prepare for the birth of the Baby Jesus.
During Advent, we focus on hope, darkness and light, repentance, watchfulness, preparation, expectation of the birth of Christ on Christmas, and anticipation of the fullness of time at Christ’s second coming.
The colors of the paraments for Advent are blue, suggesting hope, or from an earlier tradition, purple, the color traditionally reserved for kings or emperors.
The Paschal* candle which stands beside the pulpit at Elim Luteran Church, where I am a member, becomes, during Advent, the center of our Advent wreath. (www.elimlutheran.org/images/Advent-Elim.JPG)
According to ELCA’s web site, “The wreath, a circle, came to represent the eternal victory over death through Jesus Christ. The evergreens were a sign of the faithfulness of God to God’s people, even in death, and the lighted candles were a reminder of the light of Christ brought into the world.”
The color of the candles on the Advent wreath may be natural, symbolizing the Light for which we wait; deep purple, symbolizing penitence; or blue symbolizing hope. At Elim, we have chosen to match the blue paraments with blue candles. One candle is lit the first Sunday in Advent, two the second, and so on.
Many families have their own Advent wreathes at home, and have daily or weekly devotionals during Advent, where the candles are lit, scriptures for the day or week or read, and Advent hymns are sung.
Christmas songs, hymns, and carols should be reserved until the season of Christmas, which begins, not ends, on December 25.
During Christmas, we focus on God’s presence in human life, God’s love for all creation, and the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
On Christmas Eve, the colors of the paraments on the altar and pulpit are changed to white, and the candles on the Advent wreath are changed to white candles as it becomes the Christmas wreath. All five candles are lit on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and each Sunday in Christmas.
Yes, Virginia, Christmas is a season and not a single day. While the radio stations start playing Christmas music now as early as Labor Day, not a single Christmas song can be heard after Christmas Day. Even “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is never heard during the twelve days of Christmas, which is how long the Christmas season lasts.
Of course, we can always leave the tree up, the lights on, and play Christmas music on the stereo. We do at our house.
So, Happy New Year! The new church year has begun!
* The Paschal candle, also known as the Christ candle, is a tall white candle lit on festival Sundays and on special occasions such as baptisms and funerals. Its light symbolizes Christ as light of the world and his presence in the midst of his people.
Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared in “the Scribe,” the newsletter of Elim Lutheran Church, Volume 62, Number 12, December 2012.