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 for ever. Amen.
Collect for the First Sunday of Advent
The Book of Common Prayer
It's coming! Christmas is coming!
Christmas is the day children await with breathless anticipation and the day we Christians celebrate the Nativity of Jesus—God's holy arrival on earth in the form of a helpless baby boy, born in a manger in Bethlehem. But the season of Christmastide—and its “twelve days of Christmas”—does not begin until Christmas Day, December 25.
This four-week period before Christmas is known as Advent, a word derived from the Latin “ad” meaning “to” and “venire” meaning “to come.” It is a time when we Christians look towards the coming of Christ.
The first day of the Christian Year
Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, is the liturgical beginning of our church year, and we Episcopalians—along with millions of others in various faith traditions—embrace Advent as a period of expectation, reflection, hope, and preparing our hearts and homes for Christmas…a time to celebrate both the literal and the figurative arrival of God in human form, Jesus Christ. We acknowledge the darkness of the world, but as the prayer above so beautifully expresses, we are called to “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
“Put on the armor of light”
What a vivid image!
Certainly, the candle flame is widely used to symbolize the spiritual power of love against the forces of darkness (I've written of this in an earlier post, “In the Darkness, the Tiniest Light is Visible”), but the notion of actually putting on a suit of armor imbued with light that protects us and prepares us to go forth into the world—I find that visual imagery absolutely enthralling and empowering.
Light is energy.
Energy fuels courage.
And courage is what we need to move beyond our ego, beyond our comfort zone, and out among God's people to do as we're commanded in Micah 6:8 (Revised Standard Version):
He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Six ways to find more meaning in Advent
- Ask for guidance each day from the Holy Spirit to help you observe a holy Advent.
- Keep it simple; try to stay rested and pace yourself.
- Be intentional about everything you do.
- Give thanks to God as you decorate your home, wrap your gifts, bake your cookies, and prepare for Christmas.
- Enjoy seasonal music at home or by going to a concert (CLICK HERE for The Art of Simple's Advent playlist).
- Reflect for a few minutes daily—and journal, if you're so inclined—on what it means in your own life to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”:
- in your family
- in your community
- in your world
The tradition of the Advent wreath
Using an Advent wreath as the focus for a simple spiritual meditation can add depth and purpose to the season. The traditional Advent wreath can be made from a variety of materials, but a table-top Advent wreath for use at home is usually a flat circle of greens with at least four candles: three purple candles for the first, second, and fourth weeks of Advent and a pink candle for the third week of Advent. Many also include a fifth white candle to represent the Christ child and is called the Christ Candle. It is not to be lit until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. You can make your own wreath or click on the images below to order one online.
As a simple, daily celebration of Advent, individuals or families light one or more candles (one the first week of Advent, two the second week, etc.) and read an Advent devotion, favorite prayer or other text to focus briefly on the season and its meaning. The colors of the blue or purple candles signify both royalty and repentance. The pink colored candle often used for the third week of Advent is thought to represent the joy and anticipation of the season.
My Advent prayer for you and your family
I wish you and your family a simple, serene, and holy Advent, filled with joy, hope, and breathless anticipation. I'd love to hear about your own Advent traditions in the comments below.
Advent resources you might enjoy
A Simple Advent Guide, by Tsh Oxenreider
Tsh Oxenreider—through her Art of Simple blog—is offering “A Simple Advent Guide: Readings, Reflections, & Music Based on the Book of Common Prayer.” I've just downloaded my copy ($5.97) and it's chock full of lovely and thoughtful and easy ideas for Advent. It is especially oriented towards families with children or grandchildren. She does a good job of trying to take the pressure off by resisting the urge to turn Advent into an obligation-filled time and more into a season to celebrate her faith's fundamental beauty and spiritual gifts.
All Creation Waits, by Gayle Boss
This lovely book allows you to dig deeper into the meaning of Advent through the lens of animals as they prepare for the cold. The 25 portraits echo the message of Advent — that winter is not the end, but a path to new life. It works well for reading with children or grandchildren.
Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta by Heidi Hess Saxton
These daily meditations provide a simple focus to help ground us in the midst of this busy season: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations.
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
This collection includes the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, and more
Advent resources on Amazon
CLICK HERE for lots more Advent resources
More Advent wreath ideas
Go to Pinterest; type “advent wreath” into the search box and click Enter – you won't believe the wonderful variety and originality of Advent wreaths pinned.