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For outlandish creatures like us,
on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage,
Bethlehem is not the end of our journey
but only the beginning—
not home but the place through which we must pass
if ever we are to reach home at last.
–Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat
For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning—not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.–Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent DefeatAdventAdvent is the season of the church year when we wait and prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, and at the same time, wait and prepare for the return of Christ, and look for signs that the reign of God is near.
It is a season of anticipation, but also of emptiness and longing, a time to look for God’s presence in the dark and wintry places of life, and to recognize that God’s silence is not the same as God’s absence.
Advent waiting is not passive; we are warned to be awake and alert, and not to let ourselves be distracted by the affairs and activities of the world. Advent is a season of waiting, preparing, and longing for God’s promise of justice and peace to be fulfilled.
Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew (November 30), and lasts until Christmas Eve. Modelled on the season of Lent, it was originally seven Sundays long, and observed as a penitential season.
Later, the season was shortened tofour Sundays, and its emphasis shifted; the original seasonal colour was purple, reflectingits thoughtful, meditative nature. Blue is now used to convey ahopeful stance. The rose colour used for the candle on thethird Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday) parallels the use of rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday); laetare and gaudete are Latin words meaning “rejoice”.’
The use of an Advent wreath to mark the season probably began as a pagan custom in the dark winters of northern Europe. It was adopted and adapted by the Lutheran church in Germany duringthe sixteenth century, probably as a family celebration in the home. Today, Advent wreaths are used in many churches in the western world.
Various elements of the Advent wreath are symbolic. The wreath is in the form of a circle, symbolizing God, who has no beginning and no ending, and whose love and care for us never end. The evergreen branches symbolize the life God gives, life that is ever new.
The candles represent the light of God which came into the world with Jesus Christ. Some wreaths include pine or fir cones, representing the seed of God’s word. Some wreaths use holly; the prickly leaves symbolize Christ’s “crown of thorns”, and the red berries of drops of blood. Juniper berries represent the fruit of the spirit of which Paul speaks (Galatians 5: 22).
There are four candles in the wreath, three blue and one rose. A white Christ candle may be added to the centre of the wreath on Christmas Eve. On the first Sunday in Advent,one candle is lit; on the second Sunday, two, and so on. Over time, each of the candles has been associated with a particular theme; traditional themes for the four Sundays in Advent are hope, peace, joy, and love.
ABOUT THE HYMN
Each Sunday you’ll see some history about
one of the carols we sing during Advent
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
The traditional Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (VU 1) is based on the “O” antiphons, which have been used in Christian worship since the early sixth century C.E. These antiphons (short sentences sung or recited before or after psalms or canticles) accompanied the reading of the Magnificat at Vespers in the week before Christmas.
The antiphons refer to prophecies of Isaiah that Christians believe point to Christ. Each antiphon addresses God with one of the titles found in Isaiah: O wisdom, O God of Might, O Root of Jesse, O key of David, O Dayspring, O Ruler of Nations, and O Emmanuel (With-Us-God).
The text of the hymn (Veni Emmanuel in Latin) is a paraphrase of the antiphons. It has been in use since the ninth century. The translation from the Latin text by John Mason Neale, an Anglican minister and scholar who lived from 1818-1866, is the most well-known in the English-speaking world, but there are others; there are also translations into other modern languages.
Over the years, a variety of tunes have been used as accompaniment; one is Voices United, perhaps the original plainsong melody, may have been composed as early as the twelfth century.
In recent years, concerns have been raised about the anti-Semitic tone of the original lyrics of this hymn. For the past few Advent seasons, Trinity-Grace has sung words written by the Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad, a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the U.S.