The Gift of Advent
By Mary Coin
Every year I wish Christmas was less hustle and bustle and more contemplative. The events of the Christmas story are so extraordinary that one day in the year does not seem enough time to savour them properly and absorb all that they mean. Discovering the traditions of Advent over a decade ago encouraged me a great deal and transformed how I celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus.
The word ‘advent’ is derived from a Latin word that means ‘coming’. During Advent we anticipate the celebration of Christmas that commemorates the birth of Jesus. Advent is not only a reminder of the original waiting by Israel for the birth of the Messiah but it is also a time to meditate on our waiting for Jesus to return.
As St Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:
‘We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom. At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising its shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At his first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
On the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we reflect on the themes of Advent, read passages from the Bible and pray together. We also light the candles in an Advent wreath.
The wreath is a symbol of honour for those who have laid down their lives for others as Jesus did for us. In the centre of the wreath is a white candle. This is the Christ candle. It symbolises Jesus, the Light of the world. It is usually lit last of all, on Christmas Day.
Surrounding the white candle are four red candles that represent hope, peace, joy and love. These are lit on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
When my interest in Advent began, I prepared a simple Advent liturgy as a gift for my family. Ever since then I have included it as part of our annual Christmas tradition. This year I adapted it to use at Open Church.
Our heritage church building on Macquarie Road is open to the public every week day from 11am to 2pm. We call it ‘Open Church’. It is a place of rest, reflection and respite. Our volunteers provide a warm welcome. They can also answer questions about the history of the church building as well as the various programs and services that the church currently offers. There is usually a brief liturgy of readings and prayers at 12.30pm.
Open Church is the perfect context to light the Advent candles and share in Advent readings and prayers. You are welcome to join us this Thursday for our last Advent liturgy before Christmas.