Waiting in Joyful Expectation of the Messiah


Leon Bent

The Catholic Liturgy is an album in which every epoch of Church history immortalizes itself. Therein, one can find various pictures of Christ, the beloved One, during succeeding centuries. In its pages we see pictures of Jesus’ suffering, agony and death; we see images of his Sacred Heart; yet, these pictures are not proper to the nature of the liturgy as such. Classic liturgy knows but one Christ: the King, radiant, majestic, and divine.

Advent is derived from the Latin adventus meaning ‘arrival’ or ‘approach’. For thousands of years the world waited for the coming of the Messiah, to redeem and save the human race, and restore mankind’s relationship to God. With an ever-growing desire, all Advent is on tenterhooks for the “coming King”; in the chants of the breviary we find repeated again and again the two expressions “King” and “is coming.” While we typically regard this ‘enriching experience’ as a joyous season, it is also intended to be a period of preparation, much like Lent. Prayer, penance and fasting are appropriate during this sacred time. Just as the Magi laboured through a long journey to worship and gave precious gifts to the long-awaited Messiah, so we can do the same; we can give Baby Jesus our sacrifices during the Advent season.

We, too, experience this same longing for the arrival of Christ. Spiritually, we long for Christ to make his home in our hearts, as the Holy Spirit draws us into an ever deepening relationship with him; we also look forward with expectation to Christ’s Second Coming, when He will return physically to earth—as He promised—to restore all things to Himself. Eschatological expectation rather than personal penitence is the central theme of the season.

Advent is our liturgically built-in time of spiritual renewal for Christmas. If you want to get the most out of this festive period and fill your soul with love for Christ, the best way to do this is to “let every heart prepare Him room” — celebrating Advent is the Church’s way to do it!

Advent is not as strict as Lent, and there are no rules for fasting, but it is meant to be a period of self-readiness. The purple colour associated with Advent is also the colour of penance. The faithful should fast during the first two weeks in particular and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The colour of the Third Sunday of Advent is rose. This colour symbolizes joy and represents the rapture we will experience when Jesus comes again. The Third Sunday is a day of anticipatory celebration. It is formerly called “Gaudete” Sunday: gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin. The theme for the fourth Sunday is peace. Finally, Sundays during Advent, just as during Lent, should not be given to fasting, but instead to festivity because we commemorate the resurrection of Our Lord every Sunday.

Other variants of the themes celebrated on each of the four Sundays include: The Prophets’ Candle, symbolizing hope; the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing faith; the Shepherds’ Candle, symbolizing joy; the Angel’s Candle, symbolizing peace. The four candles are placed around a wreath which is a circle of evergreen branches laid flat to symbolize eternal life. In the centre of the circle is a fifth candle (traditionally white), the Christ Candle, which is lit on Christmas Day.

Good deeds and generosity have always been an important part of preparation for Christmas. Advent is a great time to practice spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy such as Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children, volunteering at a nursing home or soup kitchen, visiting the sick in a hospital, or simply inviting people into your home who may have no friends or family of their own, to observe this mellow time with. If you can’t find something to be a part of in your parish or local community, be an organizer for a cause you’re passionate about and get others involved.

Advent (from, “ad-venire” in Latin or “to come to”) inaugurates the Church’s Liturgical Year encompassing the four Sundays (and weekdays) leading to the celebration of Christmas.
The Advent season is a prime time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time, and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas. The final days of this ‘traditional ritual’, from December 17 to December 24, focuses particularly on spiritual spring cleaning for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord.

The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming : When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviours first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His Second Coming (No. 524).

Despite the sketchy history of Advent, it focuses on the coming of our Lord. The Catechism stresses a two-fold meaning: When the Church celebrates the Liturgy of Advent each year she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s ‘First Coming’ the faithful renew their ardent desire for His ‘Second Coming’ (No. 524).

Therefore, on the one hand, the faithful memorializes the anniversary of the Lords first coming into this world. We also ponder over the great mystery of the Incarnation when our Lord humbled Himself, taking on our humanity, and entered our time and space to free us from sin. On the other hand, we recall in the Creed that our Lord will come again, to judge the living and the dead, and that we must be ready to meet Him.

A good, pious way to help us in our Advent preparation has been the use of the Advent wreath which was borrowed from the German Lutherans in the early 1500s.The wreathe is a circle, which has no beginning or end: So we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of Gods plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal bliss in the Kingdom of Heaven. The wreath is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death, and resurrection. Three purple candles symbolize penance, preparation, and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same, but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished.

The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet our Lord. Each family ought to have an Advent wreath, light it at dinner time, and say special prayers. This tradition will help each family keep its focus on the true meaning of Christmas. In all, during Advent we strive to fulfil the opening prayer for the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent: “Father in Heaven … increase our longing for Christ our Saviour, and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of His coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcoming the light of His truth.”

And, this final flourish! Advent is, thus, a period for sanctity and joyful expectation!

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