This Sunday marks a lot of Firsts… yes the first day of December, but also the first Sunday of Advent, the first season of the Church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays, during which we prepare for the birth of Christ. It is the first step on the road which will culminate in the highest celebration of the Church, the Easter Resurrection. For Christians, it is a special time when we focus fully on the real meaning of Christmas.
The word itself is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘coming’ which is a translation of the Greek word parousia.
There is more than one way in which we experience the coming of Jesus. Every day we invite him into our lives when we pray and ask him to help us. Hopefully, he will show us how best to deal with the situations we are in, as well as the people we encounter, while we move through the hours at work and at home.
Obviously the great event we are preparing for is Christmas when we remember the birth of Jesus, which took place in Bethlehem about 2000 years ago. This marks the momentous occasion when God broke into human history and took the form of a man. A little baby is born in a stable and will be sacrificed as a man for the salvation of humankind.
However, there is another sense in which Christ is coming. Advent symbolizes the present situation of the Church, waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus. This season reinforces what Catholics already repeatedly confess during every celebration of the Mass, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. “ In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “The Thy Kingdom come,” and the Nicene Creed promises that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and asks the faithful to look forward to “the life of the world to come.”
Halloween is barely over when the shops begin putting out their Christmas products. We are bombarded on all sides by material concerns and worries about what suitable presents we should purchase.
On the other hand, it is quite cheerful to see all the lights and decorations which brighten up the dark November and December days.
We celebrate Advent when we light an Advent wreath and pray an Advent daily devotion. This can be observed in Church or at home, but be very careful with candlelight, especially around children and pets.
The Advent Wreath which is made of various evergreens signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end stands for the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life we find in Christ. The seedpods, nuts, and cones used to decorate the wreath are symbols of resurrection and fruit represents the nourishing fruitfulness of the Christian life.
The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and one candle is lit each Sunday. Three of these are purple because the colour violet is a liturgical colour that signifies a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice. The first candle symbolizes hope. The third is pink or rose which is a liturgical colour for joy. This is lit on the third Sunday of Advent which is called Gaudete Sunday and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experiences at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the mid-point of Advent.
The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas. It used to be called a ‘little lent’. Gaudete (which means (‘rejoice’) was a break during this period which was meant to encourage people to keep going, with faith, hope, and expectation. The Lord is very near.
The Advent Calendar is another way of marking the season of Advent. The most common ones are made of paper or card with 24 or 25 little windows. A window is opened every day in December and a Christmas picture is displayed underneath. When they were first made, scenes from the Nativity and other Christmas images were used, such as snowmen and robins, but now many calendars are made in the themes of toys, films, and beauty products. Some of these types of calendar have chocolates behind each window. You can even get advent calendars for your pets with dog or cat treats in them!
Although I am a big animal lover I do feel personally a little sad about all this. Why? Well, the answer is that to some extent I think Christmas, or rather, the true meaning of Christmas, has been hi-jacked by secular interests, whose major aim is to make money.
This Advent let us not lose sight of what is really being celebrated on the twenty-fifth of the month. The real presents are not those under the tree but rather the birth, life, and death of Jesus. That is the gift of Christmas.
Written by Marie – Therese