By Garrett Vickrey
Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas that dates back to the fourth century A.D. It has been celebrated or revered in various ways throughout the history of the church. Today we mark Advent as a season that includes the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We light candles each week to mark the virtues of this season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Advent celebrates the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. Advent comes from the Latin “arrival.” It is a three-fold arrival we celebrate— the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem, the arrival of the Christ to the kingdom in the end of all things, and the arrival of the Christ in the hearts of people today.
Purple has traditionally been the color of Advent, symbolizing repentance and fasting. Purple is also the color of royalty, demonstrating anticipation of and reception of the coming King celebrated during Advent.
Today, many churches have begun to use blue instead of purple, as a means of distinguishing Advent from Lent. Others use blue to signify the color of the night sky, Mary, or the waters of the new creation in Genesis 1.
The practice of Advent began in France and spread through Spain and Germany. The Christians of this time would fast 3 days a week in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some churches started this season of preparation as early as November 1 and many on November 11 at the Feast of Saint Martin. The French Advent was somber and penitential. It was similar in nature to the season of Lent that prepares us for Easter.
Advent in Rome was completely different. It was a festive and joyful time of preparation for Christmas. It was often a series of feasts in preparation for THE Feast of the Nativity. Over time the festal Advent of Rome clashed with the penitential Advent of France. There was compromise, but the French way won out and Advent became more and more “Lent-like.” Sure, we celebrate the third Sunday as the Sunday of Joy, but, advent hymns rarely articulate that joy. The liturgy of the season in churches often either swings fully toward Christmas (skipping Advent all together) or clings to liturgical dirges that create a brooding worship often out of step with the “Spirit of the Season”.
Is there a middle ground? Is there a way to capture the reverence of Advent and the Celebration as well?
We will try this year. Our theme is “Reverence and Celebration.” We will attempt to live out in worship each week the words of Psalm 126 — “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” There will be moments of penitence and feasting. The hope is that this practice of reverence and celebration will spill out beyond the walls of the sanctuary and into our daily lives.