The season of Advent marks the beginning of a new church year while December, the month that it primarily falls upon on the Gregorian calendar, marks the end of the year. This irony is not lost on the season, itself.
The season of Advent for many generations was celebrated as a penitential time – similar to the season of Lent. In fact, in many churches, the color of the season is still purple, as opposed to the blue that Lutheran churches generally use today. With the change of liturgical color came a change in approach (please note: the hymnal still drops the singing of the Gloria in Advent and Lent, for example); from penitential to anticipation. The readings of the season shift back and forth; from speaking of a time of Jesus’ coming to the warnings to be ready for his second coming in judgment. We are often torn in two directions; observing Advent simply as a prelude to Christmas (so, why can’t we sing Christmas songs in Advent?) and observing Advent as a solemn time for our preparation to receive Jesus, in memory of his first coming, as he comes to call us unto himself for eternity (because Advent isn’t Christmas).
Our Advent wreaths consist of four candles surrounding a center candle. Three of the four candles are blue (or purple, according to local custom) and the fourth candle is pink (technically, rose). Each candle represents one of the four Sundays of the Advent season:
- Ad Te Levavi (“I lift up my soul”) – often referred to as “Hope” Sunday (the Latin titles come from the beginning of the Introits appointed to each Sunday)
- Populus Zion (“people of Zion”) – often referred to as “Love” Sunday
- Gaudete (“Rejoice!”) – often referred to as “Joy” Sunday, and the day when the pink candle is to be lit, and
- Rorate Coeli (“Drop down ye heavens”) – often referred to as “Peace” Sunday.
The center candle is what and is known as the “Christ Candle,” to be lit on Christmas Eve, signifying the first “advent” of the Savior to the Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds (because the Wise Men do not arrive for up to two years as they followed the star to Bethlehem).
Either penitently or anticipatory-minded, we use these weeks of “Advent” to prepare our hearts and minds – remembering that Christ was promised, Christ came, and Christ will come again.