Photo by Elizabeth ExploresAdvent is a time of waiting and preparation for both the celebration of Christmas, and the return of Jesus in the second coming.

While we start seeing Christmas decorations and hearing Christmas music earlier every year, as Episcopalians we know that the Church calls us to wait.

Christmas will come on December 25, and be celebrated for twelve days; but for the season of Advent (which starts in 2019 on December 1), we are called to ponder the meaning of both the 1st and 2nd comings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to consider what that means for our lives.

For those raised outside the Anglican, Catholic or Orthodox traditions, the concept of “Advent” as separate from Christmas can seem somewhat odd at first. In a way, Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter: a penitential time in preparation for a great celebration.

Keep scrolling to learn more about Advent and why it’s important, discover new resources to help you find meaning during the season, and see what we’ve got planned here at Saint Alban’s.

Special Events at Saint Alban’s

Advent Quiet Morning | Saturday, December 7 | 8:30am to 1:30pm

Join us for a spiritual experience of quiet and contemplation during our annual Quiet Morning. Whether you are seeking some peace during a busy holiday season, or looking for an inner compass to help navigate unsettling times, these few hours will show you a deeper meaning to the Christmas as you experience peace through movement, art, music, and journaling. Questions, please email Kay Lusk.

Lessons & Carols | Sunday, December 15 | 7pm to 8pm

A moving and beautiful service of hymns, readings and carols in preparation for the Christmas season. Be sure to join us for this special experience as we watch and wait for Our Lord.

Christmas Eve | Tuesday, December 24 | At Both 5:30pm and 11:00pm (Music Begins 30 Minutes Prior to Each)

The watching and waiting end with great joy and celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Join us for very special Eucharist and liturgy marking this wonderful event. We will have two services on Christmas Eve: at 5:30pm, Holy Eucharist (Rite II) with children’s sermon and hymns; and at 11pm, Holy Eucharist (Rite I) with choir and incense. Carols begin 30 minutes prior to both services.

A Brief History of Advent & Its Traditions

The tradition of keeping Advent probably began in the 4th Century as a longer period of 40 days, similar to Lent, with fasting and other acts of self-denial. Some churches use purple and others blue for the season of Advent. Purple was a long-held tradition because Advent was considered to be a penitential season of self-examination and introspection as we prepare for Christ’s coming. Many churches are using blue now to reflect the change in season and to emphasize Advent as a season of joyous expectation.

The symbol of Advent is the Advent wreath, a wreath with three blue (or purple) candles, and one pink candle. Some churches assign a Christian ideal such as faith, hope and love to each candle, to serve as a reminder of how we are to live our lives as faithful Christians.

The traditional significance of four candles is simply in their countdown to the Advent of Christ. Each Sunday in Advent a candle is lit (lighting the pink candle on the third Sunday) until, on the Fourth Sunday, all four candles are lit.

The third Sunday in Advent, often called Gaudete Sunday, is set aside to be more of a celebratory time, a break from the solemnity of Advent, and so its color is rose with the “rose” candle and rose vestments. The name Gaudete Sunday comes from the opening words of the Latin introit antiphon for the day: Gaudete in Domino semper, iterum dico, Gaudete. (Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.)

Some Advent wreaths will also have a white pillar candle in the middle. The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and symbolizes the light of Christ that has come into the world.

While no one is exactly sure where the tradition of the Advent wreath came from, it was most likely a pagan custom in Germany. The circular wreath may have represented the sun, which is seen in that part of the world only for a very brief period each day; the candles in the wreath providing the precious light that is so dim during the long northern European winters. We now think of the circular wreath as representing God without beginning or end and the lit candles as the light of Christ which grows brighter as we edge closer to Christmas.

A nice family tradition in Advent is to have a brief candle lighting ceremony or ritual before dinner on Sunday evening with a reading from the Gospel and a prayer, followed by the lighting of the candles. If you don’t have an Advent wreath for your home, there is a limited supply available in our narthex.  Children especially love and need rituals, and lighting the candles becomes a particularly popular part of the home devotion. Some suggested readings and prayers for a home service can be found in an Advent brochure near the Advent wreaths in the narthex, or you can find the Advent prayers on pages 211-212 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Other Advent Resources

#AdventWordAdventWord is an effort to create a global, ecumenical Advent calendar, sparked by a daily word, meditation, and visual image. Participants are invited to share their own reflections on each of the daily words and meditations.

Way of Love Advent CalendarUse this calendar to spend Advent strengthening your Christian journey following Bishop Curry’s “Way of Love” — Worship, Go, Learn, Pray, Bless, Turn, Rest.

Make a PlaylistRead how you can use music to help create an atmosphere of “hopeful waiting” — including a link to a ready-made Spotify playlist.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel • This most well-known and beautiful of Advent hymns is based on the “O Antiphons,”  which have been sung by monks and nuns at vespers, during the last seven days of Advent, for twelve centuries. Here’s an interesting article on this haunting song and its history.

Advent: Beginning at the End

A reflection from Fr. Paul

Every year, the season of Advent catches me off guard. Thanksgiving is now ended, and the last of the turkey leftovers are being dutifully consumed; families begin hauling home evergreen trees to set up in the living room; television ads and stores have gone full-on Christmas, and it’s not even December yet!

And yet the readings for the first Sunday of Advent are dramatic and foreboding: Christians are called to “wake from sleep” as “the day is near” (Rom 13:11-12). In his warning to the disciples, Jesus speaks of the “coming of the Son of Man” — cautioning them to “keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt 24:36, 41). 

Already, it feels like our Advent journey goes against the grain of the world around us. We begin our season of preparation for Christmas, the feast celebrating the first coming of Jesus Christ, by looking ahead to the final judgment. We begin, in a sense, at the end. 

The first Sunday of Advent is the start of the new Church year. It is our own “liturgical time” — the annual cycle of feasts and observances that provide a trajectory for our worship together. 

In its concept of time, the Church year is actually circular, rather than linear. We end the year and the season after Pentecost with the Reign of Christ, or “Christ the King” Sunday — the recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord of all creation, and his supreme reign in eternity. This is really the point of the prophecies of the last judgment — that, in the end, all things will be put right by God, and all people will be gathered to their Source: the God who created everything that is. And so the church year begins essentially where it left off: ending with Christ on the throne, and beginning with Jesus’ warnings to “keep awake” and vigilant for his return. 

The word “Advent” means “coming” — and Advent invites us to consider both “comings” of Jesus, the first and second. We start with prophecies about the second coming, and then work backwards to the FIRST coming in Bethlehem; and even further than that, hearing from Hebrew prophets and their foretelling of a Messiah, and John the Baptist’s firey call to repentance as the herald of Christ’s arrival.

“We remember in Advent the time of waiting for the birth of Jesus: we remember that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us, as a time when people were indeed longing for something that would change everything; and at the same time, not knowing exactly what that something would be. During Advent, Christians go back to that time of waiting, as the Bible shows it to us. They read again the prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures, in the Old Testament. They read about how people were longing for an end to slavery, longing to be ‘back home’ in some sense; longing to be with God again. Longing for reconciliation. And all of that is expressed in the most powerful metaphors, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah. Metaphors about the desert blossoming; metaphors about the rain falling; metaphors about day dawning after there’s been a long, long night.” (Rowan Williams)

Advent is, like Lent, a penitential season; but unlike Lent, it is not entirely penitential. We look to the end of all things, in which Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of Lords, and we are invited to place Him on the throne of our heart. We are called by the prophets to get ready, to stay awake, to remain vigilant. We are challenged to repentance: to turn from evil, and love what is good. It is a journey of penitence and of preparation.

The Church calls us to wait: and sets aside a twelve day celebration, Christmastide, which extends from the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (or, Christmas, December 25) to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). It’s important enough, not only to wait for, but also to prepare for. That’s what the Advent journey is all about.

“When Jesus comes into the life of the world, it is something…unplanned, overwhelming, something that makes a colossal difference. We long for it, and yet we don’t quite know what it’s going to involve. But this is a bit odd, isn’t it, you might say; surely Jesus HAS come into the world, and by now we ought to know what sort of difference he’s made. But the truth is, we don’t know the sort of difference that Jesus MIGHT make. We know some of the difference he’s made in our lives as individuals; to the life of the Christian community, the Church, to the whole world. And yet, there’s more. We’re STILL waiting to see what might happen if Jesus is allowed into our lives a bit more fully, a bit more radically.” (Rowan Williams)

Watch the rest of the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s thoughts on Advent in the video below: