The four Sundays immediately before Christmas are known in the liturgical calendar, as the Sundays of Advent. This year, the first Sunday of Advent is December 1st.
Congregations have a variety of interesting ways to celebrate Advent. Some create wreaths and light candles. Others create advent calendars as a countdown to Christmas Day. In some congregations, people make 'christingles'.
Some of the modern ways of celebrating advent can obscure the significance of this important season. Advent is in fact, a penitential season. It shares much in common with the season of Lent.
The collect for the first Sunday of Advent says:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Written for inclusion in the 1549 Prayer Book, the language of “cast[ing] away the works of darkness” points us to Romans chapter 13, verse 12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Early Advent commemorations had a twin focus. The Latin word adventus was the translation of the Greek parousia—a word used to describe the coming of Christ. Advent was (and still has) a focus of Jesus first coming as the Baby of Bethlehem and also his second coming as Lord and King.
A study of the early celebrations of the advent season reveal that during the first two weeks of Advent, the Church would reflect on the Second Coming of Christ. Disciples would chasten their hearts, confess sins, and spend time hoping for the quick coming of the Lord. The final two weeks of Advent would then transition to focus on the first coming, Christ in the manger.
This double meaning in Advent history signals an important reality in the liturgical calendar: Advent and Christmas are not merely about the coming of Jesus, but also about how we respond to God’s gracious gift of sending his Son Jesus Christ into the world.
Listen here to Stainer’s “God so loved the world” as you prepare for Jesus.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and
with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from
running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy
speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you
and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. Collect for Advent 4 [BCP 2019]