Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement:-
Every eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty.
Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. There has also been a focus on the patriarchs (our forebears in faith), the prophets (those who foretold the birth of Christ), John the Baptist (the forerunner of Christ), and on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Advent is about expectation, rather than penitence, although there is an analogy with Lent. The commercial pressure of Christmas makes it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness, but the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come!’ (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Church decorations are simple, and purple is the traditional liturgical colour. In the Northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The lighting of candles on the Advent wreath was imported into Britain from Northern Europe in the 19th century, and is a tradition that we still adopt today.
In the late 20th century, and with the help of the Children’s Society today, the Moravian custom of the Christingle has enjoyed great success in Britain. Christingle services can take place before or after Christmas.
The Third Sunday of Advent was observed in medieval times as a splash of colour in the restrained atmosphere of Advent, and is also known as Gaudete Sunday or Rose Sunday. The last days of Advent were marked by the sequence of Great ‘O’ Antiphons, which continue to inspire modern Advent hymns and meditations today!