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Advent 2011: A Season Of Waiting For The Coming Of Christ

First Posted: 11/26/11 09:45 AM ET   Updated: 11/26/11 09:54 AM ET

Advent (from the Latin adventus meaning "coming") is a liturgical season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. Advent marks the beginning of the Western liturgical year and begins on Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, Dec. 25. For Christians, the season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting by Israelites for the birth of the Messiah, and the waiting by Christians for the return of Christ. The most famous hymn of Advent is "O Come Emmanuel." Its lyrics, based on the Prophet Isaiah, articulate the hopeful anticipation of the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Originally observed as a time of fasting and penitence, the emphasis of the season of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation for the coming Messiah. The season of Advent starts out in a sombre tone and for the first two weeks, purple and blue are the primary colors used in church. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (gaudete means rejoice) pink or rose are the primary colors used. This shift in color symbolizes change in emphasis from expectation to celebration.

In 2011, the Advent season begins on Nov. 27, 2011 and ends on Dec. 24, 2011. The Eastern Churches' equivalent of Advent, Nativity Fast, is 40 days long and began on Nov. 15, 2011.

The themes of the Advent season are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Lighting of candles, especially the circular Advent wreath with five candles is an important tradition of the Advent season. Each Sunday of Advent, one of four candles is lit -- with the final candle, the Christ Candle, being lit on Christmas Eve.

PHOTOS: Images Of Advent

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  • Darkness To Light Advent Procession

    SALISBURY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: The interior of Salisbury Cathedral is illuminated by candles carried by choristers during the annual 'darkness to light' advent procession on November 28, 2010 in Salisbury, England. This year's service - which begins with the cathedral in total darkness and silence before the Advent Candle is lit at the West End - features Bruce Munro's fibre optic 'Light Shower' installation high in the Spire Crossing made with 2,000 points of light. The annual advent service is a mix of music and readings during which two great processions move around the different spaces in the building which is, by the end, illuminated by almost 1300 candles. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

  • Darkness To Light Advent Procession

    SALISBURY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: The interior of Salisbury Cathedral is illuminated by candles carried by choristers during the annual 'darkness to light' advent procession on November 28, 2010 in Salisbury, England. This year's service - which begins with the cathedral in total darkness and silence before the Advent Candle is lit at the West End - features Bruce Munro's fibre optic 'Light Shower' installation high in the Spire Crossing made with 2,000 points of light. The annual advent service is a mix of music and readings during which two great processions move around the different spaces in the building which is, by the end, illuminated by almost 1300 candles. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

  • Darkness To Light Advent Procession

    SALISBURY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: (EDITORS NOTE A LONG EXPOSURE WAS USED IN THE CREATION OF THIS IMAGE) The interior of Salisbury Cathedral is illuminated by trails of candles carried by choristers during the annual 'darkness to light' advent procession on November 28, 2010 in Salisbury, England. This year's service - which begins with the cathedral in total darkness and silence before the Advent Candle is lit at the West End - features Bruce Munro's fibre optic 'Light Shower' installation high in the Spire Crossing made with 2,000 points of light. The annual advent service is a mix of music and readings during which two great processions move around the different spaces in the building which is, by the end, illuminated by almost 1300 candles. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

  • Darkness To Light Advent Procession

    SALISBURY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: The interior of Salisbury Cathedral is illuminated by candles carried by choristers during the annual 'darkness to light' advent procession on November 28, 2010 in Salisbury, England. This year's service - which begins with the cathedral in total darkness and silence before the Advent Candle is lit at the West End - features Bruce Munro's fibre optic 'Light Shower' installation high in the Spire Crossing made with 2,000 points of light. The annual advent service is a mix of music and readings during which two great processions move around the different spaces in the building which is, by the end, illuminated by almost 1300 candles. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

  • Darkness To Light Advent Procession

    SALISBURY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: The interior of Salisbury Cathedral is illuminated by candles carried by choristers during the annual 'darkness to light' advent procession on November 28, 2010 in Salisbury, England. This year's service - which begins with the cathedral in total darkness and silence before the Advent Candle is lit at the West End - features Bruce Munro's fibre optic 'Light Shower' installation high in the Spire Crossing made with 2,000 points of light. The annual advent service is a mix of music and readings during which two great processions move around the different spaces in the building which is, by the end, illuminated by almost 1300 candles. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

  • The Advent Processional Service

    LONDON - DECEMBER 01: St Paul's Cathedral holds The Advent Procession Service December 1, 2008 in London, England. The Season of Advent started yesterday and in this service the Choir will move through a darkened Cathedral illuminated only by candlelight. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Candles Burn in a Baroque Church

    WIES, GERMANY - DECEMBER 13: Candles burn inside the UNESCO world heritage site of the baroque Wieskirche Church on December 13, 2007 in Wildsteig, Germany. Snowfall brought winter back to the Bavarian Alps. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

  • Worshipper Lights a Candle

    A Christian worshipper lights a candle in the Church of the Nativity, the alleged birth place of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, 09 December 2007, on the third Sunday of Advent. Christian worshippers begin their spiritual preparations by lighting a candle on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Worshipper Lights a Candle

    Young Christian worshippers light candle in the Church of the Nativity, the alleged birth place of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, 09 December 2007, on the third Sunday of Advent. Christian worshippers begin their spiritual preparations by lighting a candle on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Carol Service

    TEWKESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 02: Members of the Abbey Choir sing in the Advent Carol Service at Tewkesbury Abbey on December 2 2007 in Tewkesbury, England. During the summer floods the historic Abbey became a focus when it and the rest of Tewkesbury town centre became completely cut off by flood waters. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

  • O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

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