Sunday, November 27, 2005

Happy New Year: the first Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and begins the new cycle of the Christian year that consists of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

Many of my friends, for various reasons, do not understand what Advent is, and why Christians celebrate it. Since it is one of my favorite times of the year, I thought it might be good to review the history, meaning, and celebration of the Season.

WHAT IS ADVENT?

Advent originated some time in the fourth century A.D. (perhaps as early as 380) as a period during which new believers prepared themselves for baptism through instruction, prayer, fasting, and reflection -- much like the season of Lent.

In its early form, the length of Advent varied from three days to six weeks -- six weeks being approximately 40 days, the length of time that Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry.

Today, Advent is celebrated on the four Sundays preceding Christmas, including December 24 (if Christmas Eve is a Sunday, then the 24th is the Fourth Sunday of Advent).

THE COMING OF CHRIST

The season focuses Christians and their thoughts to the first coming of Christ as Savior, and to his second coming as King and Judge of the World.

Traditionally, Advent is a penetential season, like Lent, and it is marked by the liturgical color of Purple.

After the Reformation, Martin Luther's encouragement of faithful devotions to God in the home led to the Lutheran practice of observing the season of Advent with a circle of four candles, often on an evergreen wreath, with one to be lit each Sunday.

The first, second and fourth candles are purple, the color of the season, and the third candle is pink, symbolising the Joy of the third Sunday in Advent. In churches that do not regularly light a Christ candle, a fifth, white candle is included in the Advent wreath that is lighted on Christmas Day to represent the nativity of Christ (since homes do not have Christ candles, home wreaths will usually include a white candle).

MAKE YOUR OWN WREATH

I've wanted, for the past couple of years, to observe Advent in my dorm room at Vanderbilt, but the University's restriction on the use of candles made me a little nervous about doing so.

This year, however, with my apartment in the Heart of Dixie, I'm on my own (with Scott, of course), and I found a great, inexpensive Advent wreath at Lifeway Christian Bookstore.

If you would prefer, you can make your own wreath: (1) get a wreath about 7-12 inches in diameter; (2) purchase five candles -- 3 purple, 1 pink, and 1 white; (3) arrange the candles so that there are three purples and one pink in the perimeter of the wreath itself, then put the white candle in the middle of the wreath. Now you're ready to celebrate Advent with your friends and family!

A SERVICE FOR LIGHTING THE CANDLES OF ADVENT

[Editor's Note: I wrote the following service of Advent as a part of a book of Liturgy that I am working on called Rivers of Praise.]

The wreath is prepared in advance: a live, evergreen wreath, or a false evergreen wreath that mimics a live one, has in its circumference four candles of the same size: three purple, one pink. A fifth candle is larger than the other four; it is a large, white candle: the Christ Candle, to be lit on December 25, Christmas Day.

The first candle to be lit should be the one furthest from the pink candle in the wreath (the pink candle will be lit during the Third Sunday of Advent).

The meeting place is dark, or partially so, when the service is to begin.


The Greeting

All stand, and the Leader begins, saying,

Light and peace to you, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
People -- Jesus is the Light of the world; thanks be to God!

The Introduction to Advent

Intoduction for the First Sunday of Advent

As we gather this day, we recall the hope we have in Christ. God told Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, because he trusted and put his hope in God. The Old Testament spoke of the coming of Christ, of how a Saviour would be born, a King in the line of King David. He would rule the world wisely and bless all the nations. We, too, believe in God's promise to send Jesus again to this world to establish His Kingdom upon the earth.

The Prayers of Advent

The Leader continues, saying,

O Lord, because You sent Your Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in Him of everlasting life; that when He shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.

People -- Come, Lord Jesus.
Leader -- The people of Israel longed for the coming of the Promised One, the Messiah who would restore all God’s people to fellowship with Him.
People -- Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will to all men.

The appropriate Guided Prayer is said by the Leader and the People together, all standing.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

The Lighting of the Candles

The Leader says

It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as servants, for Jesus’ sake. For the same God who said, ‘Out of darkness, let light shine,’ has caused His Light to shine within us, to give the Light of revelation—the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6

Then appropriate number of candles are lighted; the third candle lighted is always the pink candle; the large, white candle is the Christ Candle, and it is lit only on Christmas Day (lighting at midnight is especially appropriate).

When all are lighted, the Leader says


Let us praise the God of the Universe, the Light of the World.
People -- Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus!
Leader -- Let us pray.
People -- We pray to the Lord.
All -- O God of love, at the moment of our greatest need, You took on flesh, and dwelt among us. O the depths of Your love! O the heights of Your power! You clothed your Deity with a garb of humanity, and You came and revealed Yourself to us: God with us, Emmanuel!

Then follows the Ancient Hymn of Light, below, or some other song suitable for Advent, or both.

Ancient Hymn of Light Phos Hilaron

O gladsome Light, O Grace
Of God the Father's Face,
The eternal splendor wearing;
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Joyful in Thine appearing.

Now, ere day fadeth quite,
We see the evening light,
Our wonted hymn outpouring,
Father of might unknown,
Thee, His incarnate Son,
And Holy Ghost adoring.

To Thee of right belongs
All praise of holy songs,
O Son of God, Life-giver;
Thee, therefore, O Most High,
The world doth glorify
And shall exalt forever.

The Thanksgiving of Advent

The Leader then says

O Lord God Almighty, with humble hearts and thankful spirits, we give you all of our thanks and praise.

For You came as a tiny, fragile baby; yet we know that You are God.
People -- We thank you, Lord!

For You are the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
People -- We thank you, Lord!

For You are Immanuel, God with us! The government shall be upon Your shoulders, and we hail You as mighty God; ever-lasting Father; and Prince of Peace.
People -- We thank you, Lord!

For the blessings of these candles, whereby we are reminded that You are the light of the world.
People -- We thank you, Lord!

For we know that if we follow you, we will never walk in darkness, but will have the true light of life.
People -- We thank you, Lord!

All

We thank you, O God,
For all that you have done in our lives,
And we pray that You would give us
Such an awareness of Your holy mercy
That our hearts would truly be thankful,
and that we may be
Always full of your praise,
Not only with our lips, but with our lives:
Help us to magnify and glorify you
By walking in holiness and righteousness
For all our days.
We ask and give thanks
Through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Who lives forever with You and the Holy Spirit
One God, now and forever:
Trinity in Unity, Three in One,
Holy, holy, holy. Amen.

The Service concludes as follows, the Leader saying,

May the Grace of Christ our Savior,
People -- And the Love of God our Father,
Leader -- And the Fellowship of the Spirit be with us,
All -- Forever and ever, forevermore. Amen!


I hope that you have a blessed season of Advent. Look back next week for a service for the Second Sunday in Advent!

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