Sunday 3 December
Liturgical Colour: Purple (or Blue)
- Psalm 80: 1-8
- Isaiah 64: 1-9
- 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9
- Mark 13: 24-37
Happy Advent and Happy New Church Year!
Advent is a season of expectation and preparation for the coming (adventus) of Christ. Most secular and commercial focus is by now frantically and entirely on Christmas. However, in the church when we pray ‘Maranatha’ ‘Our Lord come.’ (1 Corinthians 16.22) we patiently look forward to the coming of Christ in at least three different ways; in the incarnation, in his final advent (Parousia) bringing judgement and the fulfilment of the kingdom, and in his coming to us through word and sacrament by the Spirit.
There are two distinctive phases of Advent. In the time up until 16th December the traditional focus has been on the ‘four last things’; Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Thereafter, the emphasis changes to direct preparation for Christmas.
Advent then, is a time of reflection, repentance and experience of forgiveness, and also of hope and deepening discipleship as we anticipate Christ being born afresh in us, renewing our hearts and minds.
The fact that it coincides, in the northern hemisphere at least, with the darkest time of the year means that the natural symbols of light and darkness are even more important than usual. A great example of this is the lighting of candles on the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath has four candles (traditionally purple, sometimes one pink, but any colour is fine!) around the outside and a gold or white one in the middle. There are various traditions about what each one represents, but most often the four are associated with the people who prepared the way for the coming of Christ; the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary, Mother of Jesus. (The one in the centre is always Christ!) There are also various readings and prayers that can be used to accompany the lighting of the candles. The Common Worship ones can be found here.
Today, if it is our tradition, we change the liturgical colour to purple (or blue). We also hold back from using the Gloria in excelsis, which echoes the message of the angels to the shepherds, so it is extra special when we sing or say it at Christmas.
Finally, today begins a new year in the three-year lectionary cycle. It is now Year B and we will be focussing on Mark’s Gospel for the next twelve months. More of that later.
For me Advent always seems to involve clearing out cupboards! I am not sure whether it is because getting out into the garden when I have a spare hour or so is becoming less attractive, or whether it is the prospect of Christmas visitors who may notice my normally rather relaxed approach to housework. However, although seemingly mundane, the clearing out of properly out of date spices (I am sure they are okay for an extra year or two…) and refreshing paintwork might be an avenue for, rather than avoidance of prayer. Brother Lawrence famously talked about the spirituality of the pots and pans. Cleaning things on the outside can helpfully accompany self-examination and spiritual refreshment. (I am not claiming that I do that every time I pick up a duster – just saying that it is possible!)
We prepare our churches as well as our homes for the visitors we will welcome over Advent and Christmas. Sometimes this might seem a chore. But it can also be a wonderful time of joy and fellowship. Perhaps this year try and consciously rope in as many people in the church family as possible to help. Provide some nice tea and cake (or sherry and mince pies) and play some advent carols in the background, and maybe, even throw in a few prayers for ourselves, the world and the people who like the shepherds and magi will soon be drawn to discover Christ for themselves.