Starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, – for 2018, that’s Dec. 2 – Advent is a December celebration rooted in deep Christian traditions.
Unlike the more widely-celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day holidays, Advent is about far more than gift giving, hot cocoa and the night of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Advent – which comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “visit” – is traditionally a time of remembrance and anticipation for the coming of Christ. It is also the beginning of the liturgical year for followers of the Christian faith, meaning that it is the beginning of six distinct periods of Christian observance throughout the year; beginning with Advent and ending each year with Pentecost Sunday
According to UMC.org’s “What We Believe” article on Advent, during this time “We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.”
For United Methodists, the Advent season is full of rich traditions, celebrated in church buildings all over the United States and abroad.
Judy White, a United Methodist member, remembers some of those traditions growing up in one United Methodist Church from her past.
“Advent season not only included the lighting of a new candle each Sunday but also a new feature of Christmas decor to the sanctuary,” White said. “One Sunday, the Christmon tree appeared; another week the wreaths in the altar area; another the poinsettia tree. The growing anticipation was palatable.”
Some of these traditions include the vibrant and elegant decorations used to adorn church sanctuaries.
The Advent Wreath is one such decoration that adds rich greenery and color to United Methodist sanctuaries. The wreath, which is comprised of an evergreen wreath and four candles, is much more than just decoration; it also holds deep symbolic meaning.
Thought to have originated in the time of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the wreath — which is shaped into a perfect circle — is meant to symbolize the eternity of God. The four candles placed in the middle of the wreath are purple; this symbolizes both the royalty of Christ the King but also the four weeks that make up the Advent season. A larger white candle is usually placed in the middle and is known as the Christ candle.
The order in which the candles are lit – and what each candle represents – varies from church to church. Traditionally, the candles are lit each week of Advent, and the Christ candle is lit last – on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – as a way to remind Christians that Jesus is the light of the world.
Another traditional Advent decoration found in many churches is the Chrismon Tree.
The word “Chrismon” is a contraction between the two word “Christ” and “monograms.” It is a Christmas tree that is decorated not with the traditional Christmas ornaments, but with ornaments that represent various Christian symbols found throughout history.
The Chrismon Tree was originated in the 1940s by a lady named Frances Spencer, a member of Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia. She trademarked the Chrismon name in 1957 and began the Chrismon ministry around the same time.
Many of the symbols used on the Chrismon Tree, such as The Chi Rho – a Christogram symbol formed from the first two letters of the Greek word for “Christ” – place their origins in the earliest days of Christianity, when Constantine the Great ruled the Roman Empire.
Advent is a time to reflect on the most crucial time in the history of our Christian faith; when God arrived in human form to live amongst his creation and create a way for all of us to escape the sin of the world into which we were born.
Remember the rich symbolism found within your church walls this season and celebrate the season of Advent with friends, family, and fellow believers in Christ.