What is Advent?
word “advent” means “coming.” As the first
season of the church year, Advent marks the coming of Jesus, both
his first coming in the Incarnation and his second coming at the
fulfillment of God's purpose. The Gospel readings for Advent focus
on John the Baptist, the herald of Jesus' coming, and on his mother
Mary, the bearer of his coming.
Advent is a penitential season, meaning it
is a time for confessing one's sins and sitting with God.
In the early years, Advent was a 40-day season of preparation for
baptism, much like Lent. Baptisms were performed on the Feast of
the Epiphany (January 6). When Christmas Day (December 25) became
the more prominent holiday, Advent became a four-week prelude to
Christmas. During Advent, churches that use altar hangings and clergy
vestments will use the color purple (as is the case during Lent),
or, if available, a dark blue.
Many churches and families use an “Advent wreath” to
mark the four Sundays of Advent. These sets typically have purple
candles for the first, second and fourth Sundays, and a pink or
rose candle for the third Sunday, known as “Gaudete Sunday”
(from the Latin word “Rejoice”), when tradition allowed
an easing of the Advent fast.
Popular Advent hymns emphasize the theme of coming. “O Come,
O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come Thou, Long-Expected Jesus”
are two examples.
The arrival of Advent Sunday
in late November or early December means the start of a new cycle
in the lectionary of assigned readings. Most liturgical
churches use a three-year cycle (Years A, B and C), each focused
on a different Gospel. Year C, which began December 3, 2006, focuses
on the Gospel of Luke.