The church year is a representation of the life of Christ in an annual pattern with two main centres: one is the Christmas event (Advent, 12 days of Christmas, Epiphany) and the other is the Easter event, which begins with 40 days of Lenten preparation, Holy Week, Triduum (Three Days) culminating with the Resurrection of Our Lord, and 50 days – a week of weeks – of rejoicing through the Day of Pentecost.
The new year begins with Advent, a season of preparation that looks forward to Christ’s humble coming at Bethlehem and his glorious return as the Sovereign of the ages at the end of time, all the while considering how he comes to us new each day of our lives. Historically, purple was the liturgical colour for Advent, the royal colour of the coming Sovereign. In more recent years blue has been chosen as the colour of hope, a primary theme of the Advent season.
Advent allows a reclaiming of Christmas, as we recognize that we are not bound to the slavery of commercial consumption, and so can prepare ourselves for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. “Krissmuss” has become a largely secular and commercial festival today. The early church may have begun its own celebration of Christmas (centuries after the first celebration of Easter, and long after Epiphany had become a holy day for the faithful) as a response to a non-Christian holiday. In 274 A.D. the pagan Roman emperor Aurelius declared that citizens of the empire must celebrate December 25th — the winter solstice on their calendar — as the Feast of the Unconquerable Sun. Christians in the Roman Empire, resisting this, may have adopted December 25th as an alternative festival, the birthday of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (see Malachi 4:2).
Observing Advent can help us carry out a genuinely Christian preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord – all twelve days of it, from Christmas Eve through the Epiphany – in our homes, in our church, in our lives in the world. Advent’s familiar sights and sounds stir in us a Christian readiness to receive our Lord and Saviour. The readings for Advent and the Advent hymns and music sharpen our sense of the world’s, and our own, need for redemption and prepare us to celebrate the great mystery of God’s incarnation, the gift of the Word become flesh in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God!
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.