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Advent Traditions

two candles one being lit from the other in the dark

Sunday 17 December
Year B: Third Sunday of Advent
Liturgical Colour:  Purple (or Blue) or Pink!


  • Psalm 126: 1-6 or the Magnificat
  • Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
  • 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
  • John 1: 6-8, 19-28


The third Sunday of Advent and time for a change in tone. Up until now we have been thinking a lot about mortality and judgement, but today our attention turns to preparing ourselves for the joy of Christmas. Each church will have its own familiar and much-loved traditions during this period, as does the church more widely. Here are a few examples:

(I am not saying follow them, just letting you know about them!)

Rose Sunday

In medieval times this particular Sunday was observed as a splash of colour and called Refreshment or Rose Sunday. Some churches even have pink robes, which they use today. There are two rose Sundays in the year; this one in Advent (Gaudete) and one in Lent (Laetare).

Advent Wreath

We talked about this a couple of weeks ago and here is the link to that blog, and a reminder of the Common Worship advent wreath prayers. And here is more about the history and meanings that have become attached to it over the years.

Advent Prose

This originated in seventeenth century France. It is drawn from verses in Isaiah (64.9a, 10, 11a – 64.6, 7 – 43.10a, 11, 13b – 40.1a and 44.22) each expressing a longing for salvation and the coming of the kingdom.

The refrain (from the Latin refringere, ‘to repeat’, so, lines that are repeated) is:       

Pour down, O heavens, from above,
And let the skies rain down righteousness.
(Isaiah 45.8a)

The full text can be found here. There are lots of musical settings for it; here is one of them!

The Jesse Tree

Another connection with Isaiah, this time 11,1-2. It is named after Jesse, father of David. A Jesse tree charts the events and characters from creation to Jesus. It can be a fun thing for children to do, and adults too.  Here is just one of many websites with suggestions. (You don’t have to begin on December 1st!)

Advent Antiphons

Historically, these antiphons were used before and after the Magnificat at evening prayer on the seven days from today.

DateAntiphonGospel AcclamationScripture of the day
17thO SapientiaO WisdomGenealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
18thO AdonaiO Ruler‘As king he shall reign and govern wisely’ (Jer 23)
19thO Radix JesseO Root of Jesse‘He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.’ (Luke 1)
20thO Clavis DavidO Emmanuel or
O Key of David
‘The Lord will give him the throne of his father David.’ (Luke 1)
21stO OriensO Key of David or
O Emmanuel
‘The Lord your God, is in your midst’ (Zeph 3)
22ndO Rex GentiumO Root of Jesse or
O King of the peoples
‘He has come to the help of his servant Israel’ (Luke 1)
23rdO EmmanuelO King of the peoples‘And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.’ (Mal 3)
24th– – – – – O Morning Star‘The dawn from on high shall break upon us.’ (Luke 1)

Very few churches have the luxury (or pain depending on your view!) of daily evensong, but they are lovely and you might find a different way of using them. They are best known from the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Neale and Lacey versions).


These services usually happen anytime between the end of November and February and involve oranges, red tape, sweets or dried fruit and candles! The Children’s Society webpage offers a great explanation and resources.


All of that may seem a long way removed from the lectionary readings for today. The prophet Isaiah and John the Baptism are looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God and the biblical refrain continues to be ‘make straight the paths’ for both. 

The traditions we keep during Advent will vary widely from church to church. Whatever they are, at worst, they can become distractions and clutter on the road. However, at best, they help us to turn from busyness and commercial persuaders, and prepare us to engage with the true meaning of Christmas.

John the Baptist was very clear that he was not the Messiah but a witness, someone who shines a light in the darkness and clears the paths to make things ready the ‘one who is coming’. Our traditions likewise are not ends in themselves, comforting and lovely though they may be, but rather, pointers to Jesus.

So what?

Whatever our traditions let’s make sure that those who feel drawn to church during Advent have a clear view of the life that is coming!