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Advent—What It Is
Advent has been celebrated in Christianity for about 1800 years. It corresponds to the nature religion’s celebrations of the winter solstice, when the days started getting longer, and spring approached. It is a time when all traditions remember and enjoy light.
Each Sunday in Advent at church, we light a candle in the advent wreath. The first Sunday, one; the next Sunday, two; and so on. So the amount of light increases as we get closer to Christmas. This symbolizes our growing awareness and experience of Christ as we get closer to his birthday.
Christmas has always been dedicated to nurturing and refining our experience of Christ. That’s why Advent is viewed as a preparation for Christ’s birthday. It used to be 40 days long, starting mid November. 40 days is used in the Bible to stand for cycles—ending the old life and start the new. Often it involved fasting, to culture purification, and help refine experience. The season was shortened in the Middle Ages to four weeks, emphasizing the four Sundays before Christmas.
The wreath for Advent is round for the unending, eternal, self-created nature of God. The greenery is for hope and renewal. The light is for God’s goodness, strength, and nurturance. It also symbolizes God in our heart and God in the world. Four candles are in the wreath—three violet and one rose colored. These count down the four Sundays. One white candle goes in the middle. This candle is for Christmas day.
Advent can be celebrated at home, with an advent wreath of your own making. Catherine Fournier1 gives this idea for making a fresh wreath. You need:
· shallow bowl or dish,
· oasis (also known as florist's foam; it is available from any florist),
· three purple candles,
· one pink candle,
· one white candle,
· pine or cedar boughs, or ivy.
She says to build the wreath this way: Make the wreath by first soaking the oasis in warm water until it is completely saturated. Fit it into the bowl, carving it and packing it in tightly so that it will not shift around. Then carve four holes in the oasis for the candles. Place the candles in the holes you have made and begin sticking greenery into the oasis to completely cover it. It's nice to have some trailing over the edges of the bowl, and closely packed around the candles to hide all the foam. Keep the foam well watered, and try not to let the candles burn down so low that they scorch the greenery. The wreath will last from the first Sunday of Advent until Epiphany.
An Advent Ceremony
First Sunday of Advent: Discrimination. Light the first violet candle and pray:
Dear Lord, I take in thy light as guidance, that I may see you in creation. I put on thy light as armor, that I may greet you in action. I open to the light of your wisdom, that I may love you in everything. Amen.
Second Sunday of Advent: Self-Forgetfulness. Light the first and second violet candle and pray:
Dear Lord, your light fills my heart. I remember that I am your child; I thank you for your love. I dedicate myself to give that light to others. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent: Love. Light the first and second violet candle, light the rose candle, and pray:
Dear Lord, you are my source; I grow in thee. The fruits of this vine are truth, harmony, and unity. I give myself and my world back to you.
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Right Action. Light the first and second violet candle, light the rose candle, then the last violet candle, and pray:
Dear Lord, I set apart a holy place in my heart, a place that is yours. This silence is the beginning of my action, so that I can love you above all things. I pronounce your name in everything I say, your will in all my action. Amen.
Christmas Day: Light all the Advent candles, light the white candle, and pray:
Dearest Christ, I greet you in the light; birthing you in my heart, creating you in my actions, welcoming you in my life. You have been called Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting God, and Prince of Peace. I call you mine own, my own Christ child that I will grow without end. Amen.