We meet to light the first candle of Advent on Sunday, November 29, and at that time we begin the new Church year and that part of it dedicated to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christmastide, as it is sometimes called, consists of the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. At the start of the new Church year, we also switch our lectionary readings from one Gospel to the next in line. This is year B, meaning we will largely read from the Gospel of Mark for the rest of the year.
Patterned loosely after Lent, Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. It ends with the Christmas vigil service on what we call Christmas Eve day, as a day in the life of the Church is from sunset to sunset, not 12:01 am to 12:00 pm. The color of Advent was even the traditional purple of Lenten penitence for our sins until relatively recently, when blue was adopted for the color of joy and to honor the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother. Despite the new color on candles and altar coverings, the season of Advent continues to have penitential overtones because for the first two weeks of this short season of the Church year we reflect on the return of Jesus Christ and not His birth. The texts associated with those first two weeks are apocalyptic in tone, meaning they have to do with the prophesied end times and with Jesus as our victorious judge and not His infancy. We remember the reason for His Incarnation, our very own sins, and the way in which He atoned for those sins, the cross. So, while we are alive to the joy of the Christmas season and the coming of the Christ Child, we still sorrow some for being a part of the reason that holy Babe died on the cross 33 years later. The singing of Advent hymns, many in minor keys, prepares us for Christmas joy, as we sing of God’s loving willingness to suffer our limitations for our salvation.