From the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” the season of Advent is a time of expectant waiting, joyful anticipation, and reflective preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus at Christmas. The season of Advent serves as a reminder of God's people's waiting for the coming of the Messiah as well as God's people's continued waiting for his return to make all things new. It is a season of expectant longing for the Messiah—the one who will come to set the world right. Advent, then, is a season characterized primarily by... waiting...
Implicit in this period of waiting is the acknowledgement that our world is broken and that we desperately need the Messiah to bring healing and salvation and wholeness. One of the paradoxes of the season is that with the birth of Christ we recognize the Messiah has already come, yet we cannot help recognizing that God’s kingdom of peace and justice has not yet fully come. That is, we have healing and salvation for our souls through Jesus, but we still live in a world that is fundamentally broken, unjust, and deeply in need of salvation and healing. We see the poor, the hungry, and the hurting, and we long for those promises to be fulfilled. Part of the wisdom of Advent is this honest acknowledgement of our human longing, and the magnetic pull back toward Christ, the Expected One. Advent gives a clear answer to disappointment with the brokenness of the world: of course all is not well right now—we are waiting for the one who will make all things well.
One of the elements we incorporate into our weekly gatherings to illustrate the themes of the season is the Advent wreath. It is a circle of evergreen branches (symbolic of eternity and a reminder that God has no beginning or end and God’s kingdom is eternal) and five candles, which are lit on each of the four Sundays of Advent and on Christmas. Each Sunday, a candle is lit and particular passages of scripture are read corresponding to that week’s theme. The first candle is the candle of Hope; the second is the candle of Peace; the third is the candle of Joy; the fourth is the candle of Love; the fifth candle in the center is the Christ candle. Three of the candles are purple, reminding us of the penitential and reflective nature of the season that calls us to prepare the way for our King. The royal color reminds us that the Creator God who is King of the cosmos is also Immanuel, God-With-Us; this is good news of great joy, so we sing "let every heart prepare him room." On the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin “Rejoice!”), we light a pink candle which reminds us that our waiting is almost over and we can hardly contain our joy. We light the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, and the color white reminds us of the purity of Christ, the light of the world who could not be overcome by the darkness.
The slow pace and reflective tone of the season of advent can feel out of sync with the fast-paced noise and busyness of December shopping and social engagements. But this sense of dissonance reminds us that as disciples of Christ and citizens of God’s Kingdom, we are called into a way of life that’s markedly different from the way of life we witness in our culture. And, in a very concrete way, the Church calendar invites us into a different way of marking time reordered around the life of Christ. As we celebrate advent together, we choose to reorder our lives around Christ and we choose to enter the story as it happened for those who came before us: with anticipation, with longing, with hope.