Although Advent is not exclusive to the Anglican Church, there are many Christians for whom it is not a part of their tradition or practice. I have written a reflection on Advent as part of this issue of “News from the Pews”, but I thought I would just share a bit more about some of the meaning and tradition surrounding it.
Advent, when used outside of the Church, means the coming into being or use. For example, we talk about the advent of the car, or computer or anything else that has revolutionized the world, that has changed it by coming into being or use. In the Christian church Advent is the time when we think about Jesus coming, and as I said in my other article it is the dual focus of Jesus’ first coming and his second coming.
Advent is about four weeks, as we count back four Sundays before Christmas. On rare occasions, as happened two years ago, the 4th Sunday of Advent is also the morning of Christmas Eve. As a Church we mark the 4 Sundays with an Advent Wreath, where we light one additional candle each week and the centre candle on Christmas Eve. Each week there is also a theme associated with the candles: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love respectively. The third candle for Joy was traditionally pink as a lighter version of the other candles, and signified a lightening-up of the sombre mood. The center candle is white the same as the paschal candle at Easter and is called the Christ Candle, and signifies Jesus’ coming when we light it on Christmas Eve. Some families will also have advent wreaths in their homes, and light the candles each day or evening, such as making it part of grace at dinner time.
Advent used to, and in some parishes still does, use purple as the colour. This was the same as Lent and marked the season of Advent as more penitential or sombre. During the liturgical renewal of the 1980’s blue was introduced as an alternative colour for the season, to reflect a shift away from penitence to hope. Blue is thought of as a colour of anticipation, much like the blue of the sky we see early in the morning. While we shifted to blue, most congregations kept the 3rd candle as pink. Our candles are sort of a mix, and could be seen as blue or purple depending on the light in which they are seen.
I hope that this brief explanation of Advent will help you understand and to enter more fully into this shortest of all Church seasons.