What is Advent?

Advent is my favorite liturgical season. I love the purple banners, the four candles on the altar, the readings from the prophets, and the contemplative music. 

I especially relish the way this season stands in stark contrast to the frenetic activity of the world around me. Just as the world is flashing brighter lights, the church is dimming her lights and waiting.

Advent is a four-week season that marks the beginning of a new church year. The first half of the church year walks through the life of Jesus from his birth (celebrated at Christmas) until his death and resurrection (celebrated at Easter).

Historically, the four weeks of Advent were set aside as a time of preparation for baptism. The church today now observes Advent as a four-week period to prepare for our celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas.

You will notice during the four Sundays of Advent that the colors on the altar, banners, and clergy vestments change to purple. Purple is a color that reminds us of both of royalty (the birth of the King) and contrition. The cries of the prophets ring in our ears, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

The word Advent means “coming.” That begs the question: who (or what?) is coming in Advent?  Is it Jesus? How can we wait for a birth that has already happened?

As Jesus’ birth is in the past, we are not waiting for his first coming, but for his second coming. In this way, we join historical Israel in her longing for the Messiah to come and set everything right, to establish his kingdom forever. The Israelites received hopeful promises that a savior would come, a new kingdom would be established—and yet for many, many years they waited.

When I was a young single gal, I wanted to set aside time in Advent to pray and reflect. I bought a small pamphlet of Advent prayers and a simple wreath with four candles.  I vividly remember sitting alone in the dark at my table. I lit the first candle, read the scripture and prayed, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” I anticipated Messiah with Israel.  As I opened my hands, I hoped for a day I would share this table with others.

Every year at Advent, I am reminded of that season in my life. It comes back to me because the circumstances of my own life gently reflect a reality of Advent.  At that time I hoped for a husband and children to join my life. In time both of those hopes were fulfilled. Yet, because of my husband’s death, the fulfillment of that hope has come and gone.

I am filled with gratitude for the ways the Lord has fulfilled my hopes and yet my heart breaks in the reality that all is not yet set to rights.  Christ has come and yet we walk in darkness waiting for the coming of Jesus in glory.

Advent gives the church an opportunity to anticipate the coming of Jesus as our true fulfillment and our longing for his coming again.

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