The church season of Advent
Happy New Church Year!
We live in a time when we follow an annual calendar based on the orbit of the planet Earth around the sun. New Year’s day on that calendar is January 1st. The Christian church also follows a calendar, but based on the orbit of the Christian life around the Son of God. The first big event in that calendar is the birth of Jesus into the manger of Bethlehem. To give a little time to focus on preparing ourselves for that birth, the Christian church year begins this Sunday, December 3rd.
Advent, however, is not simply an extension of the Christmas season. Secular society celebrates Christmas earlier and earlier each year and ignores Advent entirely, which makes it difficult for Christians to focus on Advent. Technically, the liturgical Christmas season begins on Christmas Day (the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” refers to Dec 25th–Jan 5th, not twelve days before Christmas). To avoid an Advent-Christmas mix-up, we begin to sing Christmas carols and hymns only on Christmas Day and afterwards.
The word ‘advent’ is a Latin word meaning ‘coming.’ During this time we look forward (1) to our Lord’s coming as a human baby at Bethlehem and also (2) to his final coming as king at the end of time. We also remember (3) his continual coming to his people in his Word and Sacraments. Therefore we speak of Christ’s “three-fold coming” during the season of Advent.
Advent is a time of waiting, preparing, and hoping. This involves both joyful anticipation and repentance. Although the emphasis on confession has largely been lost in recent times, Advent is a penitential season of the church. Since Jesus is surely coming again in judgment, we desperately need for him to come to us first in grace.
The color in church (in the paraments on the altar and pastors’ stoles) changes to purple during Advent, representing penitence and prayer. Purple was a very expensive color in the ancient world. The dye used to make the color was painstakingly acquired only from a particular Mediterranean shell fish. It was afforded only by the rich and worn most exclusively by royalty.
The Prayers for the Day on each Sunday in Advent are ancient prayers said by many believers even during the week. Children would take turns reciting them as they lit the candles on the Advent wreath.
- Prayer of the Day for the First Sunday in Advent: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
- Prayer of the Day for the Second Sunday in Advent: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
- Prayer of the Day for the Third Sunday in Advent: “Hear our prayers, Lord Jesus Christ, and come with the good news of your mighty deliverance. Drive the darkness from our hearts and fill us with your light; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
- Prayer of the Day for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Take away the burden of our sins and make us ready for the celebration of your birth, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”