Yesterday was Advent Sunday which marks the beginning of the Church Liturgical Year. Contrary to what the manufacturers of Advent calendars believe, Advent only occasionally begins on 1st December. Instead it begins four Sundays before Christmas Day. With Christmas Day this year falling on a Sunday, (which is every clergyperson’s delight!), it means that this year, Advent begins on the earliest date possible and lasts a full four weeks.
In preparing for worship last week, I was particularly struck by the opening words of the Collect for Advent Sunday, “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light….”. It is a reminder of one of the great themes of the Advent season – darkness and light, and the need for each of us to use this season to prepare ourselves once more to receive the light of Christ. To be able to welcome the incarnate Son of God, born into our world on Christmas Day.
It is a particular theme of the Gospel of John and the prologue of that Gospel which I shall read as the last lesson in our Service of Lessons & Carols in a couple of week’s time and at our Midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”. John 1. 4-5 NRSV.
In many Churches throughout the world, there is the tradition of having an Advent Wreath, Advent Ring or Advent Crown, made of greenery and with four candles, one to be lit on each Sunday during the Advent season. Sometimes there is a further, usually white candle, in the middle, which is lit on Christmas Day.
Here in the Czech Republic, rather than having an Advent wreath sitting on a table near the front of the Church or on a windowsill, the tradition is to have a large Advent Ring hanging from the ceiling, behind or at the side of the altar. And because we do not own our Church building but rent it from the Kliment congregation of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, we do not even need to provide our own Advent Ring as they provide one for us! As they always have their Sunday service at 09.30 before we have our Eucharist at 11.00, we inherit it already appropriately lit. All we have to do is ensure we snuff out the Advent candle(s) at the end our worship as part of our responsibility of leaving the Church safe and secure!
The lighting of an additional candle each Sunday does illustrate the approaching coming of light into our dark world in the person of the Infant Jesus. But the challenge I put to both myself and the congregation last Sunday was the question as to what ‘work of darkness’ each of us needed to ‘cast away’ as the increasing light of Christ shines into the various dark corners of our lives which most of us would prefer to remain hidden.
For contrary to popular opinion, Advent is not simply a countdown to the celebration of Christmas. Rather, it should be a penitential season, a ‘mini Lent’, so that both our hearts and lives are ready to welcome God’s Son Jesus Christ who ‘came to us in great humility’ at his first Advent, and thus be ready, ‘when he shall come again in his glorious majesty’ at his second Advent.
Collect for Advent Sunday
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen