Welcome Advent, the season of joyful anticipation and expectation! From the Latin “adventus” meaning “to come,” Advent reminds us that as God promised His people deliverance from bondage to sin and death, and made good on that promise in the first coming of the Christ, so He will fulfill His promise to come again and take to the fullness of His eternal kingdom those who are prepared to receive Him by living their lives as He taught.
The First Sunday of Advent begins the new liturgical year, so Happy New Year everyone! The 3-year cycle of Scripture readings assigned for weekend Masses shifts to the next cycle, which this year features the Gospel of Luke (my favorite!)
As we journey through this wonder-filled season, we use many signs and symbols to express our hope and joy in the coming of Christ. Light and darkness, for example, figure prominently in Advent. As daylight grows ever shorter until reaching its zenith at the Winter Solstice, so our longing for the return of Christ is mirrored in our longing for more daylight. As the sun shatters the darkness of night, so in Advent we focus on Christ shattering the darkness of sin and death, and pray that we might share in that victory by our rejection of the deeds of darkness and, as St. Paul says, “putting on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12)
This is why we bathe our homes in light at this time of year. Whether with bright white or colorful strings or simple candles in our windows, such lighting is visually festive and beautiful; but more importantly it shows that here live people who are ready to receive Christ at His Second Coming. Like leaving a light on when a loved one goes out in the evening, our “Advent” lights show that we are waiting patiently and hopefully for all Jesus promises to those who love and follow Him; who take seriously His call to be “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)
Keeping with the theme of light shattering darkness, the Advent Wreath, a circle of evergreen branches surrounding four candles by which we count the weeks of the season, is perhaps the most prominent symbol of Advent. It originated in a cultic winter solstice ritual practiced by the Germanic peoples of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. As in many cultures around the world, these people worshipped the sun as one of their most important gods. As daylight faded to just a few hours each day, they beseeched the sun-god to “return” with the brightness of its light and comfort of its warmth. Native evergreens, symbols of life persisting in the cold of winter, were woven through the spokes of wheels stripped from wagons (which were useless at this time of year) and torches were attached to the rims. Setting them ablaze each night, they sang, danced and petitioned for a return of the sun until daylight began to grow longer.
Christian missionaries sent to evangelize these tribes saw a parallel symbolism in our hope of the return of Jesus, the “Sun of Justice,” One who is “Light from Light.” They saw in this wheel of light a bridge between the culture of these tribes and the faith they were sent to preach, and voila: the Advent Wreath was born! It takes on added symbolism in that as a circle, a line with no beginning or end, it reminds us of the eternity of God and His loving promise of a share in His immortality. The evergreen branches symbolize God’s everlasting Word, love, mercy, compassion, and especially the eternal life that is His, which He offers to us. The candles used in place of torches still supply the symbol of light, but are usually purple and pink, the colors of Advent. (We’ll take a look at that next week.) A great way to enter into the spirit of and celebrate the season, especially with children, is making an Advent Wreath for the home. You can light the appropriate number of candles at dinnertime as you say grace, and perhaps add a simple petition like, “Lord Jesus, come again.”
So in the words of St. John the Baptist, the herald of the coming Messiah, let us “Prepare the way of the Lord” in all we say and do in this season of light, hope and joy!
LET’S GO EAGLES, FLYERS & SIXERS!!!
In His Love,