Newsletter 2010 : Advent
The four weeks leading up to Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, are known as Advent, which means, the coming. On the four Sundays of Advent in Christian churches, the Bible readings and prayers concentrate on preparing congregations for the coming of Christmas. Often on Advent Sunday, the Sunday closest to November 30th, there is a special service called an Advent Carol service where the readings and carols lead us from the darkness of the sin of Adam, through all the prophesies in the Old Testament which tell of the coming of the Messiah, to a climax at the great moment where Mary agrees to be the mother of Jesus and her great prayer, the Magnificat (a hymn of praise) is sung. Some churches may erect a Jesse tree, which is an evergreen tree on which are hung symbols of Jesus from the Old Testament. For example, the Messiah was often described by the prophets as a lion of Judah, so the symbol of a lion is hung on the tree.
More common however is for churches to have an Advent wreath. This is a circle of evergreen branches which symbolises that life is eternal. The wreath is often tied with purple ribbon as purple is a colour associated with repentance in the Christian church and during the season of Advent Christians are encouraged to repent of their sins in order to be ready to welcome the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. On the wreath there are four candles. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, and so on until all four candles are lit on the Sunday before Christmas.
In the past, the season of Advent was marked by fasting and great solemnity, as a symbol of repentance and as a means of preparation for the great celebration and feasting which was to take place at Christmas. Nowadays however, for many people this season has got "lost" in the rush and hectic nature of the lead up to Christmas which has become a material, as well as spiritual festival.