Advent – from the Latin “adventus” translates literally as “coming”. The Latin is a translation of the Greek word “Parousia” which has traditionally referred to the Second Coming of Christ in glory.
Hence during Advent, Christians reflect upon and prepare themselves afresh for the second coming of Christ, while reflecting too on the imminent celebration of His first coming as the infant in the Manger in Bethlehem. In a sense, since the time of the Second Coming is known only to God, celebration afresh of the Nativity, and reflection of the ancient desire for the Messiah to come, become an alternative practical focus.
Hence Advent is both a season of expectant waiting and anticipation, but also a time of penitence, repentance and seeking to put oneself “right with God”. Unsurprisingly for most Churches, the liturgical colour associated with Advent is penitential purple.
Advent lasts from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is the Sunday nearest to 30th November (St Andrew’s Day) until the 24th December (Christmas Eve). The four Sundays leading up to Christmas are defined as the Sundays of Advent. The first of these – Advent Sunday – also marks the start of a new Church year. In a sense Advent Sunday is also a reminder of the underlying message of the Gospel of Jesus: that is it the Gospel of the “Second Chance”. At Advent we can, through our earnest repentance, and God’s forgiveness of our sins, effectively wipe the slate clean and start our lives afresh, in harmony with the changing seasons of the Church’s year.
Advent Sunday, on which God’s message of hope to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the founding fathers of the Hebrew peoples) is revisited, is also often marked by specific services such as a candle-lit Advent Service of Light – where candles are lit in a darkened Church from a single Paschal (Easter) candle, and the light of Christ – coming afresh into the world, is spread, candle by candle among the congregation and through the Church until the darkness is “overcome” by the light.
Advent Carols and worship songs are sung, and readings and homilies have a reflective and penitential nature, as the congregation prepares itself for the coming again of Christ – the infant in the Manger. Many Advent carols have a haunting, expectant undertone, as they set out the message of anticipation of the coming of the Messiah – Immanuel/Emmanuel – God is with us – who would set the people of Israel, (and indeed we today), free of the oppression of selfishness and sin. “Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free“.
On the Second Sunday of Advent The prophesies of the ancient Old Testament Prophets are re-read and interpreted, as they reminded the ancient Israelites of the destructive consequences of disobeying God and His laws, while offering them the hope of a Messiah who would come to save His people from their misfortune and sin.
On the Third Sunday of Advent, we reflect on the unusual circumstances of the birth of John the Baptist to an elderly, childless but God-fearing couple Zachariah the priest and Elizabeth, and his subsequent vocation in adult-hood as the messenger of the coming ministry of his cousin, Jesus Himself. John was the voice crying in the wilderness (and even today crying in the wilderness of selfishness and sin which are the hallmarks of our modern world) … “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” … “Clear a straight path in the desert [of your hearts and minds] for His coming“.
Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we remember the steadfast faith, obedience, and trust of Mary – the young woman visited by an Angel, and given completely astonishing and alarming news, and yet obedient and faithful to God, whose only Son she bore into the world.
During the final seven days leading up to Christmas from 17th December, many Churches celebrate the seven “titles” which are given to Jesus through the scriptures. From mediaeval times these have been commemorated during sung evening service of Vespers or Evensong by the singing of “antiphons”. Known as the “O Antiphons”, these day by day recall Wisdom (Sapientia in Latin), Ruler of the House of Israel (Adonai), Root of Jesse (Radix) (pointing to Jesus’ human ancestry), Key of David (Clavis), Rising Dawn (Oriens), King of the Gentiles (Rex). and Emmanuel. Hence the Antiphons are known as ‘O Sapienta’; ‘O Adonai’; ‘O Radix’; ‘O Clavis’; ‘O Oriens’; ‘O Rex’ and ‘O Emmanuel’.
The Latin initials of these titles spell out an “acrostic” which backwards reads the Latin “Ero cras” meaning “Tomorrow I will be there”. In medieval times this was clearly seen as a coded reference to the approach of the vigil of prayer for Christmas.
These titles are also embodied in the longest version of the ancient hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel“, which we sing regularly during Advent.
In many Churches, the final week before Christmas sees that start of the Christmas seasonal services. At St. Francis’ we will look forward to Christmas on 17th December, when we hold our annual Festival Service of Lessons and Carols for Christmas.