The season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, and also marks the beginning of the Church Year. The word “advent” comes from the Latin meaning “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is a period of devout and joyful expectation that anticipates the coming of Christ. This period of preparation was observed by the 5th century, often connected with a time of fasting, although some date it back to the time of the Apostles and the early church.
A specifically Lutheran tradition is to use an Advent wreath with four candles during the four weeks of Advent. During the first week, one candle is lit, and each subsequent week an additional candle is lit. The four candles can represent hope, preparation (or peace), joy, and love. Corresponding with the third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday, the third candle is historically pink to represent joy. The other three candles are usually purple or blue to match the color of the season. The four candles have more recently been connected with prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels. Often a Christ Candle is used in the center of the wreath and is lit during the 12 days of Christmas (Christmas Eve through January 5th).
Advent focuses on the coming of Christ in three ways. Over a span of 4,000 years, God’s people anticipated the coming of the Messiah prophesied throughout the Old Testament, and during Advent we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation (God taking on flesh) as Jesus begins the fulfilment of those prophecies through His birth in Bethlehem. Advent is also eschatological as we anticipate the second coming of Christ on the Last Day. In addition to a focus on the past and the future, Advent should also be a time to reflect on how Jesus comes to us today in Word and Sacrament. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).