Advent: Preparation for Christ’s coming begins for Western Christians

Wreath of greens with five lit candles, in building

An Advent wreath with all candles lit. Photo by Christine McIntosh, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3: Advent wreaths glow and the anticipation of Jesus’s birth begins as Western Christians around the world begin the season of Advent. In the four Sundays leading to Christmas, many Christians light a new candle upon the wreath. Often, these wreaths are a part of congregational worship during this season—but many families also make their own wreaths at home.

One unusual question in 2017 is: At what time of day will families light the fourth and fifth candles? That’s an issue because the final Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve this year. (This convergence will occur again in 2023.

Coming in 2018:
50th Anniversary of Apollo 8

Already, plans are being made to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous Christmas Eve message from the crew of Apollo 8, December 24, 1968.

Click the image to learn more about the historic reading.

A new book by Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon, already has racked up more than 170 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. The book’s Amazon description tells the story:

In August 1968, NASA made a bold decision, launching humankind’s first flight to the moon. Only the year before, three astronauts had burned to death in their spacecraft. President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade seemed sure to be broken. But when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders were summoned to a secret meeting and told of the dangerous mission, they instantly signed on. Then, on Christmas Eve, a nation that has suffered a horrendous year of assassinations and war is heartened by an inspiring message from the trio of astronauts in lunar orbit.

That “inspiring message”? On December 24, 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the Moon. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman recited Genesis chapter 1, verses 1 through 10, using the King James Version text.

THE MEANING OF ADVENT

For Western Christians, Advent focuses on both the ancient arrival of Jesus and the Second Coming; on both spiritual longing and alertness. Most churches are draped in purple and/or blue during the Advent season, representing penitence and hope.

Did you know? Eastern Christians began the Nativity Fast—the Eastern equivalent of the Western Advent—on November 15. The Nativity Fast lasts 40 days, and incorporates prayer and strict fasting.

Each Sunday during Advent, a new candle is lit on the Advent wreath. Typically, an Advent wreath is fashioned of evergreens and contains three purple candles and one rose one, with an optional white pillar candle at its center. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, and the white candle may be lit on Christmas Eve. (Tradition varies: in Protestant churches, candles are often red, and in Anglican and Lutheran churches, blue candles are common. Wikipedia has details.)

Origins of the Advent wreath are believed to be Germanic, though opinions vary. The wreath’s circular nature now represents the eternity of God, and the increasing glow of the candles symbolizes a people previously living in spiritual darkness and, at last, witnessing the coming of the Light of the World. Advent calendars and Jesse Trees have also gained popularity of use during this Christian season.

Make a DIY Advent wreath, with information on structuring a base, candle-holders, greens and decorations at Catholic Culture.

Create a chic Advent calendarno matter what your taste—with the multitude of ideas suggested by Martha Stewart. For European flair, check out the related article from the UK’s Daily Express.

Blessings for the Advent wreath, for a Christmas tree and more are at the official site for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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