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Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.
Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday. The Eastern churches’ equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in both length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1 At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian,Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3.
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.
Many churches also hold special musical events, such as Nine Lessons and Carols and singing of Handel’s Messiah oratorio. The “Late Advent Weekdays”, December 17-24, mark the singing of the Great Advent ‘O antiphons’. These are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer (in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) andEvensong in Anglican churches each day and mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.
Here are the “O Antiphons:” These are my personal favorite prayers of the entire year! As you can see, they express the longing for the coming of the Savior and the desire for freedom from everything that binds us…
The Advent “O Come” Antiphons
O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation!
O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free!
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid!
O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
Sun of Justice:
Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death!
O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind,
Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust!
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people;
Come and set us free, Lord our God!
The keeping of an advent wreath is a common practice in homes or churches. The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first advent candle that of hope. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophesies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem, the way or of the prophets. The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit – Rejoice! – (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-colored vestments similar to Laetare Sunday at the middle point of Lent, so one candle is rose-colored, while the others are purple, the liturgical color of the Advent season in most churches.
For many “practicing” or “observant” Christians, then, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is far from the secularized frenzy of shopping sprees, round-the-clock Christmas carols on the radio, all manner of “Christmas specials” on TV, and boozy office “holiday parties.” It is a time of “waiting in joyful hope” to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth once again, who came to tell the whole world of the love that God has for all the people God has created, as the Book of Genesis tells us, “in God’s own image and likeness.” This is truly Good News!