The First Sunday of Advent - Year C, December 2, 2018

Happy New Year!  Not in the traditional, secular sense, but in our Catholic church and its lectionary!  The beginning of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church is the First Sunday of Advent!

What is “Advent”?  It is a 4-week/4-Sunday season in the liturgical year of the Latin Catholic Church of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity (birth) of Jesus, and the return of Jesus at the Second Coming.  The word advent means “coming”.  Many other Christian churches have their own celebration of Advent.  We prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus by increased prayer, penance for our inequities, sacrifice and alms giving.   

The Advent wreath is a symbol and an implement of our faith to help us in our personal preparation for the coming of Jesus, and for focusing our hearts and minds on the real meaning of Christmas.  It is a long-standing Catholic tradition that started in the Middle Ages as part of the Christians preparation for Christmas. The wreath itself symbolizes continuous life, and in its circular shape the immortality of our souls and eternal/everlasting life.  The different evergreens used in the wreath have their own meanings.  Laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering.  The pine, holly, and yew signify immortality and the cedar represents strength and healing.  Pine cones symbolize life and resurrection, as do any other fruits or berries on the wreath.  In its entirety, the wreath is meant to remind us of the immortality of our souls and God’s promise of everlasting life for us through Christ Jesus.

There are 4 candles on the Advent Wreath – 3 purple and 1 rose.  Sometimes there is a white candle in the center called the “Christ Candle” and it is lit on Christmas Eve.  A candle is lit each week of advent. The colors of the season of Advent are purple (weeks 1,2 & 4) and rose (week 3).  Purple is liturgically symbolic of penance and sacrifice.  We see this color in the church and on the priests during Advent and Lent.  The color rose symbolizes joy.

The first candle, which is purple, is the “Hope” candle, sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in memory of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Jesus.  It represents the anticipation and expectation of the coming of the Messiah.

The second purple candle is the “Faith” candle, or “Bethlehem Candle” and reminds us of the journey that Mary and Joseph had to undertake to Bethlehem.

The third candle is the “Joy” candle, or “Shepherd’s Candle”, and is rose colored, the liturgical color which represents Joy.  The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday”.  The word Gaudete means “joy”.  We are rejoicing remembering the joy the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, particularly the shepherds in their fields who received the news first!  Also joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of Advent!

The fourth week of Advent, we light the last purple candle for the final week of preparation through prayer, penance, sacrifice, and alms giving.  The final candle is called the “Angel’s Candle” to remind us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

The final candle, the white candle in the center called the “Christ Candle” is a contemporary adaptation.  This candle represents the life of Christ and its color is for purity because Christ is our sinless, blameless and pure Savior.

On the First Sunday of Advent this year, our first reading is from the book of Jeremiah and is a message from God, a promise He will fulfill, to “raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.”

The second reading from 1 Thessalonians Paul prays for them to have more love for one another and for all, and to strengthen their hearts, and to be blameless in holiness before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.  This is what Advent is about, isn’t it?

And in the Gospel message, according to Luke, Jesus tells us that the day is coming when he will come again, and he describes some of the signs that will happen.  He tells us we should not become “drowsy” and warns us that we should always be prepared for that moment because we do not know the hour or day it will occur.  This reminds me of the last few weeks before the birth of a baby.  There are signs that it will be soon, but no one really knows the day, the hour or the minute it will happen.  Therefore, we prepare everything so that we are ready at anytime to experience the coming of our baby and we don’t have to worry that we won’t be ready when it happens.  That time during pregnancy is Advent, is it not?  About 4 weeks of waiting, preparation, prayer and JOY!