Advent Prepares us for Christmas
The season of Advent that begins this weekend can be one whose meaning is a little hard to understand. It is not penitential in nature like Lent, and many of us get in the Christmas mood long before Christmas. That being said, the season does have a lot of meaning and there are many ways we celebrate it both at church and ways in which we can celebrate it in the home.
First, some background on Advent. The word comes from the Latin word that means “coming.” We reflect on how the Lord is coming during Advent in two ways. In the early part of the season, we focus on the second coming of our Lord, thinking about how we can prepare for our encounter with the Lord at the end of our lives. We remember that when Christ left this earth, He did not abandon us, but remains with us in the Church, with His Spirit, and the sacraments and Church and one another. When Christ comes again, His presence will no longer be hidden behind signs and symbols of the liturgy, or the Bible, but it will be revealed in all its fullness and will be a presence that will never end.
We also reflect on the first coming of Christ, celebrating how God has become one of us. Jesus in His ministry showed us what life can and should be, and He also gave us the Church as He knew we could not live in isolation.
The most familiar part of the season may be the Advent wreath. These consist of evergreen branches into which four candles are inserted that represent the four weeks of Advent. Typically 3 are purple and 1 is rose. The purple candles symbolize prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and good works done during Advent. The third Rose candle is lit on Gaudete Sunday, which means “rejoice,” because we have passed the mid-point of Advent when we are close to Christmas. The lighting of the candles also symbolizes the hope surrounding the first coming of our Lord. We have our Lutheran friends to thank for the wreath, as the Advent wreath came from Eastern Germany in the 16th century and then quickly was adopted by Protestants and Catholics alike. As the candles are lit the wreath becomes brighter during the dark nights of early winter, symbolizing Christ dispelling the darkness that can be in our lives.
Vestments worn at Mass during Advent are purple, though they may vary slightly from Lent. As Advent is more focused on preparation for both Christmas and our own encounter with God, and Lent is more on penance and what we need to turn away from sin, the purple of Advent can be mixed with the color of blue, though technically blue vestments are not used.
To prepare for Christmas and also for the moment when we will meet Christ, a good thing to do during the season of Advent is to reflect about what Christ means to us. Especially in a season when we can be so busy preparing for gift giving, we can make time to prepare our souls to receive the gift of eternal life in heaven by finding time for prayer. Consider praying as a family more often, or incorporating an Advent wreath into your home by lighting the candle(s) every night as your family sits down to dinner and saying a prayer together.
Advent is also a time where we can grow in charity. God came to us out of love in the Son, and linked Himself even more closely to us in how He became flesh as one of us. What better time to grow in charity by doing kind things for one another. Perhaps when out shopping parents can encourage children to pick out a gift for an less fortunate child, or you can make it a point to do kind works for someone in the family such as an elderly relative. You can also try to make it a point to grow closer to loved ones; such as making time to talk to family at Christmas parties, or even something as simple as reminding someone you care about them by writing a personal note in a Christmas card as you send them out.
Advent is a beautiful season that helps us prepare our souls for Christmas. Just as we prepare our homes for Christmas by putting up the decorations to bring some joy into a rather dreary time of year, we prepare our hearts to be fitting dwellings for God by renewing our love for Him as we prepare to celebrate His love for us in our celebration of His birth.
Have a very blessed Advent Season,
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