What is Advent?

Have you ever noticed that the anticipation of an event can often be almost as exciting as the event itself? For example, think of the weeks that led up to your favourite family vacation; perhaps you travelled to Mexico or Hawaii. You bought clothes, changed your eating and exercise patterns, researched things to do at the resort, and you definitely talked to all of your friends about it! When we know something good is coming, it is easy to get excited ahead of time.

In many ways, that is what the annual celebration of Advent is about. Advent is the preparation for, and the anticipation of, the arrival of Jesus, both historically and in the future.

The term “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which itself is a translation of the Greek parousia, which means “coming” or “arrival”. In Western churches, this season of waiting and preparation is called Advent, while in Eastern churches, it is referred to as the Nativity Fast.

In Western churches, the season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is November 27 this year. Advent is divided into four weeks, each consisting of specific sacred readings, colours, candles, and traditions.

The primary colour of Advent is purple, which symbolizes a number of historical and spiritual elements. Purple is the colour of royalty, the colour of suffering, and the colour of penitence and fasting. The use of the purple points to the connection between Jesus’ identity as King, his death, and his followers’ preparation for his second coming in the future.

The various colours and weeks are visually combined together through the use of the specific candles of Advent, contained in the Advent Wreath. The wreath consists of four outer candles, one for each of the four weeks of Advent, and one center candle for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The light of the candles symbolizes that Jesus is the light of the world.

The first is the purple candle of Expectation or Hope (or sometimes Prophecy). This candle draws attention to the historical context of religious oppression and spiritual apathy prior to Jesus’ birth, and the longing of God’s followers for a new king (the Messiah).

The meaning of the remaining three candles varies among churches. Some use the candles to remember Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels. Others use the candles to remember John the Baptist, Mary, the Magi. Others draw attention to the Annunciation, Proclamation, Fulfillment.

Regardless of what candles two, three, and four represent, the third candle is usually pink or rose (occasionally blue), and it emphasizes the element of Joy about the Advent (arrival) of Jesus. Finally, the center candle, called the Christ Candle, is white and is a reminder that Jesus is the heart of the Christmas season.

What are your beliefs about Christmas?  Have your experiences been negative or positive?  What, if anything, are you looking forward to during the Christmas season this year?

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