The First Sunday of Advent is this weekend, December 3rd. In the Catholic Church, we tend to think of Advent as the four Sundays when we light the candles in the wreath at mass, and perhaps even at home as well.
It is the liturgical season when we rightly prepare for two comings of Christ. As we are all well aware, it is a joyous time of remembrance and observance of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation, when our God loved us so very much that He took on human flesh for the sole purpose of drawing us back to Him. He came on a rescue mission, and from the first breath he drew as a babe, His divine love established Him firmly on that course.
Less well known is the second purpose of Advent. We remind ourselves that there will be a second coming of our Lord. We prepare for that day and time, knowing not the hour or the day. Our readings at mass, as the liturgical year of the Church comes to an end, last Sunday being the final Sunday of the year, have been much about the wise virgins who awaited the Bridegroom with lamps full of oil.
The Church gives us this season to prepare ourselves, to associate the birth of Christ with the sure knowledge that He will come again, and that we, in our human pre-occupation, may have gotten distracted and let other things take precedence over our most pressing concerns.
The Liturgical Calendar of the Church is a valuable tool, if we will use it, with its seasons and solemnities. Aside from the beauty and order it brings to my faith life, the teaching and meaning it brings, I think of it kind of like the religious version of my iPhone calendar. A reminder is set, telling me something very important is soon to take place, giving me time to make my preparations.
Many Catholic Christians will not put up the tree until right before Christmas, choosing to observe Advent as a time of anticipation and waiting. Many will avoid traditional Christmas music as well, choosing particular songs during Advent that specifically represent that waiting and longing for Christ. The most commonly known one is Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.
1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
2 O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. Refrain
3 O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain
4 O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. Refrain
5 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode. Refrain
6 O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. Refrain
7 O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. Refrain
If you would like information on how to make an Advent wreath, here is a link with step by step instructions, even telling you how to bless the wreath.
Here is a link with many ideas for Advent calendars that your children or grandchildren might enjoy. I like the ones I have seen that have a short scripture verse or prayer in the envelope or drawer that you open.
We all have four weeks until Christmas. We can spend it wisely, lighting our lamps and filling our containers with oil in anticipation and welcome, or we can complain that we don’t have enough time to get everything done, and spend it all shopping, cooking, decoration, and partying.
Nothing at all is wrong with any of those things, and I intend to do them also. But I will give myself the gift of longing for Christ the Child, anticipating and celebrating that wonderful first Christmas, and preparing myself for His return, the day and hour unknown to me, but if I take the time to ponder on it, the real reason to celebrate.
I am much better at the celebrations and the anticipation, and not so great at the preparations, which is why the Church wisely calls me back each Sunday in the readings, reminding me to wake up, be ready, light my lamp with welcome.
You can sign up for Advent reflections, a short paragraph or two that will come in your email daily here. This is a ministry of Bishop Barron’s Word On Fire organization, and is useful for any Christian. It is not Catholic in nature, just readings and meditations.
Finally, more and more Christians of all denominations are beginning to observe and celebrate Advent. Of course I write from my own Catholic perspective and experiences, but almost all of what I include here is pretty non denominational. If the idea of these observances is new to you, and you would like some ideas and thoughts from a Protestant perspective, there are many good ones out there. Here is a link to get you started.