Editor's note: Dear reader, may you have a blessed Advent! HuffPost Religion invites you to share your Advent reflections and experiences with us. What does the season of Advent mean to you? What spiritual exercises and meditations do you practice during Advent? Whether you're observing Advent for the first time, or you've observed Advent your entire life, we want to hear from you. Send your personal reflections (300-500 words) and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are excited to embark on this journey with you.
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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.
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.
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.
Images Of Advent Darkness to Light procession:
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12/21/2012 8:52 PM EST
The Gero Cross displayed at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
12/21/2012 8:38 PM EST
LATIN: O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.
ENGLISH: O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
12/21/2012 8:33 PM EST
Antiphon for Dec 21
O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
This is based on:
"Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)
Learn more about the antiphon here.
12/21/2012 3:28 PM EST
Christmas After Newtown
Advent is that time when we wait in anxious anticipation of the birth of Christ. In Advent of 2012, our wait seems in vain. How can we celebrate the birth of a child when the lives of 20 children have so cruelly been taken? How can we reconcile the birth of a Savior 2000 years ago with the presence of such terrible evil in the world today? How can any God worth believing in allow such a nightmare to take place?
And yet, perhaps Advent is the time when we are best able to confront this horror. Advent, after all, is not really about waiting for the birth of a child. That child was born a long time ago. Advent is about waiting for the second coming of Christ.
The second coming of Christ refers to the next manifestation of the Word Eternal, the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5). If there was ever a time when we need this light, it is now.
The light will reveal the Kingdom of Heaven, when we will “beat our swords into plowshares and our swords into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4).” When “the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).
How long will God make us wait for the unveiling of this Kingdom? That isn't up to God. It is up to us. As Jesus told us, “the kingdom of God is among you.” In other words, God’s part is done. Our part is what awaits completion.
God does not promise us a life without evil. The Bible is filled with stories of terrible evil being visited upon the most holy of innocents. What God promises us is the ability to transform even the worst evil into the greatest good. That evil that unfolded on Dec. 14 will not be transformed into good by Christmas morning 2012. But it will be transformed, if we have the collective will to make it so.
This is the promise of Advent.
-- Roger Sessions
12/21/2012 3:11 PM EST
An Advent Prayer
@ OccupyAdvent :
May we pay particular attention to the least, the poor, the hungry, ones who have to make impossible choices. #occupyadvent #eveningprayer
12/21/2012 12:22 PM EST
Advent: Discovering New Meaning Through Ancient Pagan Practice
Counter-intuitive as it may be for those of a particularly rigid faith, I marvel at the way ancient, pagan traditions can bring unexpected and quietly powerful meaning into the celebration of many Christian rituals.
And it makes sense that this is so. Pre-dating most of today’s Christian holidays, early pagan practices are actually at the root of many of today’s Christian traditions, including the season of Advent.
Long before the time of Christ, pagan communities, worldwide, set aside the weeks before the Winter Solstice as a time to honor the coming of the light.
(The date of Christmas was officially designated during the fourth century as Dec. 25th – the date Romans celebrated the Solstice).
Before I had any real awareness this Advent/pagan connection, the Advent season had been for me simply the designated four-week, headlong rush to Christmas that it is for many people today -– a crazy-busy season of fitting in the additional to-do lists of buying/wrapping/sending gifts, decorating the house, sending cards, on and on.
In those days, the beauty of the month of December was completely lost on me. In fact, the only natural sense of “December” I experienced back then was that it became so ridiculously and incongruently dark outside, earlier every day, which felt annoyingly disconcerting –- I mean, Christmas was supposed to be joyful, right?
So I made sure to keep the intrusive distraction of December darkness at arm’s length, just out of reach, lest a foreboding, quiet emptiness creep in with it and jeopardize the utter but inevitable mayhem and frivolity of my Christmas preparations.
But when I began to study the ancient Celtic tradition, and learned of its keen awareness of humanity’s deep, inner connections with the rhythms of the natural world, I began to realize how beautifully aligned the symbolism of the Advent season is to the imagery of the natural season leading to the Winter Solstice –- the play of light and dark, the waiting, even a kind of deep and prophetic longing.
On her luminous blog, A Design So Vast, Lindsey Mead speaks to the nascent light of her own inner longing as Solstice approaches, and offers a meditation by author Meg Casey that captures the hushed beauty of December:
“December is a holy month. Maybe it is the dark, silky silence that descends so early that speaks to me of reverence. Maybe it is the promise that December holds -– that no matter how dark, how cold, how empty it can get, the light is coming back. Something always shifts in me when December arrives -– I embrace the darkness, and am eager for the coming solstice when the whole world is still and holds its breath, waiting to be reborn again.”
Before I integrated a more organic, more pagan, gnosis into my experience of the Advent season, I hadn’t thought of December’s darkness as a holy, “silky silence that descends so early.” I’d been asleep to the movement of the whole world toward stillness and turning. I’d been dismissing as irrelevant and bothersome any complexities or tensions this in-between time might offer.
But the pagans and their inner congruence with the natural order shook me awake -– awake, and tumbling into a dark and holy Advent, full of paradox and promise for all of us.
For the word “advent” literally means “the coming,” and in this sense, these weeks in December are indeed a time of “advent” for all of us -– whether we consider ourselves religious or not. The light is coming. And all of Creation -– and we -– wait together for that coming.
What a not-to-be-missed treasure the natural season of Advent can be then, when the “nascent light” inside each of us can turn to, and answer, the promises of light surrounding us everywhere in the December dark –- the whisper of candlelight from darkened windows, the blue-black light of dusk against the silhouetted trees of winter.
This is Advent -– when, as sleepers, we awaken to our own light of love, deep within us, waiting to be reborn again in the dark stables of our own souls.
-- Carolina Oakes (@CarolineOakes) from Bucks County, PA
12/21/2012 11:47 AM EST
Advent Reflection Day 20: What Can You Do Between Now and Christmas to Transform Our Culture of Violence
This morning my church joined churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques across the country and tolled its bell once for each life lost last Friday in Newtown. Each ring of the bell signaled a life with so much potential now cut too short. As the bell stopped ringing I thought about those lives lost in Newtown, and about the bells. And, as much as I believe that we as a country needed to stop and mourn and ring out our pain and sorrow, I also believe that it is not nearly enough.
Now is the time that people of faith everywhere need to start the hard work. We need to do something to transform our culture of violence into one of peace. And for those of us who are Christians, this Advent, as we prepare for the Prince of Peace, that work takes on special importance.
There's a church in Syracuse, New York that is doing the work of peacemaking. All Saints' Church, a Roman Catholic parish, is asking parents to bring in Christmas gifts that promote violence, such as video games and guns. If they come with a receipt, the church will return them and donate all the money to Newtown. Not only will a community in mourning benefit, but stores and manufacturers will receive the message that we are no longer going to buy into violence. I think it's a brilliant idea.
And I think there are lots of other brilliant responses to violence out there as well. And so here's my challenge to Christians this Advent: what one thing can you do between now and Christmas to transform our culture of violence? What one way can you witness to the Prince of Peace whose birth we will celebrate in four days? Will it be refusing to buy a violent toy? Will it be volunteering with a worthy cause? Will it be speaking up when we as a country start to debate what to do next?
The peace of Christ is already inside us. And it can be all around us. In this Advent season, we have a special imperative to share it by our words and our actions. In these final days before Christmas, preach a Gospel of peace with your lives, and pray that we will never have to toll a bell for lost children and their teachers again.
-- Rev. Emily C. Heath (@calledoutrev) from West Dover, VT
12/21/2012 11:35 AM EST
Advent Day 20: Scripture Reading of the Day
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Silo'am" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)
12/20/2012 10:32 PM EST
O Clavis David
LATIN: O clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris.
ENGLISH: O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and lead forth the captive who sits in the shadows from his prison.
12/20/2012 10:27 PM EST
Antiphon for Dec. 20
O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and lead forth the captive who sits in the shadows from his prison.
This is based on:
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:22)
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. (Revelation 3:7)
Learn more about the meaning of the antiphon here.