A season of reflection and preparation
With the Christmas holidays”right around the corner”most people are busy indulging in the traditional gift-buying frenzy, decorating and preparing their homes to reflect the celebrations, and making plans to spend time with family and friends. In the Christian church this pre-Christmas period is known as Advent. It’s a four-week season of preparation before the feast of Christmas and is more than just about sprucing up your home or fulfilling everyone’s gift wish list. In the Christian church, this season should be spent more so on reflecting and anticipating than spending and indulging.
“Christmas is a beautiful season and people tend to want to spend more time together and indulge in the secular aspect of the season more but this is not really what you should be focusing on in this season,” says Father Reggie Demeritte, rector of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Agnes Catholic Churches in Grand Bahama.
“Advent, which began on November 28 this year and will end on Sunday, December 19, is a time of soul searching and cleaning up your life spiritually. This is not the time to be so caught up in the material and secular side of things that you forget what is important,”says Fr. Demeritte.”It is an important season in the Catholic church because it is one of the only times of the year where the church dedicates a whole season to reflection and preparation for an upcoming season.”
In the Catholic church it is tradition not to decorate the church or even hang traditional ornaments so that there is a distinct difference between this solemn season and the joyous one that follows. Two days before Christmas Day, decorations go up to celebrate the coming of Christ. Until that time, out of the five weeks leading up to Christmas, for the first four weeks, one of the purple candles on the Advent Wreath, the only form of decoration in the church during the season is lit. At the end of the fifth week, Christmas Day, the solitary white candle is lit.
In the Anglican Church, the Advent period is also held in high regard. According to Archdeacon James Palacious, archdeacon of administration in the Diocese of The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the season holds much religious significance as Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ in the upcoming Christmas season.
He feels that one should treat the Advent period as if an important guest is being expected, and as such people need to ensure their households and their persons are ready and presentable for the occasion. The Archdeacon says that instead of only preparing physically for the guest you should also be cleaning out your spiritual home so that the Lord in His second coming will be pleased. And that this is the occasion to reflect and be excited about the coming of the King.
“Advent, a word Latin in origin meaning coming is one of two important preparation seasons in the[Anglican]church’s calendar,”says Palacious.”The church in its wisdom sets aside time before the greatest feasts each year so that parishioners can prepare themselves to celebrate these special occasions. This season was traditionally a time of great solemnity and focused on penitence but it is moving away from this and the season is becoming more about expectation and anticipating the coming of Christ. This is why in some churches the color blue which represents expectation and hope is adopted rather than the traditional color of purple that represents penitence and solemnity.”
An important symbol in this season is the Advent Wreath of which there are many accounts of how it came to be incorporated into the Church’s tradition, according to Palacious. The story that he likes the most involves early Scandinavians who believed that the shortening of the daylight hours in the winter was an indication that the gods were angry with them.
“To show penitence the people took wheels off of their wagons and offered them up as a sacrifice. Spring eventually came and it was assumed that the gods were pleased and the practice occurred year after year when the daylight once again began to shorten. The Christian church adopted some part of this tradition and of course put their own twist on it. Instead of a wheel we have a wreath. The circular shape and greenery indicates God’s never-ending love for us all. The four candles–three deep purple and one violet colored, mark each week spent in the Advent celebration. Then there is a white candle located in the middle of the wreath where the axle of the wheel would be traditionally. This candle represents the presence of Christ in the world.”
Advent, while being a time of preparation, is also a time to reflect on your own life, according to Archdeacon Palacious. He says you should be thinking of the goodness of God and how kind He has been to you as indicated in John 3:16.
“He sent His son to die for us and save us from our sins. We should also be using this time to be kinder to others and learn to continue this practice throughout the year. We should also be reminded of the humility our Lord displayed in His life and how there was no room at the inn for Him. We should ensure that this season we make room in our hearts for Him as well as our brothers and sisters who need our help in these hard times.