Traditionally Advent encompasses a spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. The Western Church sets the season of Advent as beginning on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through the daytime services of December 24. Christmas begins with the evening services (Vigil) on December 24th and extends through the twelve days of Christmas. The Christmas octave (eight days) includes the Nativity on December 25th; Feast of St. Stephen, the first Martyr on December 26th, the day after Christmas; the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist on December 27th; and on December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents; and the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus on January 1st.
“Behold, your king is coming to you.” Matthew 21:9
Like the Lent, Advent affords the penitent a time of preparation for receiving the fulfillment of the Father’s plan of salvation in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus. Though not as ‘deep’ as the preparatory season of Lent, the Church does exercise some restraint in the Divine Service during Advent.
- In keeping with the tone of repentance, the Hymn of Praise/Gloria in Excelsis (the angel’s proclamation at the birth of Christ) is omitted from the Divine Service, even on the Sundays in Advent.
- Depending on local custom, the organ playing may be restrained before and after the service.
- In many places flowers are not used at the altar.
- Christmas hymns and carols are not sung until Christmas Eve.
Paraments. The traditional color of Advent, and that which still best fits the historic pericopes of Advent, is purple/violet, which is both the color of repentance and the royal color of the coming King—the two main themes of the One-Year series. When possible, the paraments used in Advent should be different than those used in Lent as the character of the seasons is quite different, for the only symbol common to both is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God (Pfatteicher). Since the adoption of Vatican II reforms of the liturgy by much of the Western Church, the use of blue as the color of Advent has been adopted by many Lutheran congregations. In the Lutheran church, Advent blue is a tradition color for Advent among the Swedish Lutheran churches. Blue suggests the color of anticipation and hope, a theme that is seen in the revised readings of the Three-Year series. A congregation should be attentive to use the paraments that carry the theme of the lectionary being used.
The Advent wreath or Advent log is an arrangement of four candles, originally used in home devotions to count the weeks of Advent and symbolize the approach of the Coming One. The traditional Advent wreath featured white candles, but recently the custom of using seasonally colored candles has become common. If the church’s Advent paraments are blue, four blue candles should be used. If the paraments are purple/violet, then three purple/violet candles are used with a rose candle being lit on Gaudete (“Rejoice”), the Third Sunday in Advent in the historic lectionary. When using purple/violet candles, the rose candle is set in the Advent wreath at three o’clock and the candles are then lit from week-to-week starting with the purple candle in the nine o’clock position. With it’s colored candles the Advent wreath is better displayed in the nave than in the chancel.
The use of the Christ Candle in association with the Advent wreath is a liturgical novelty and should be discouraged in the Lutheran congregation. First, the Christ candle is an importation of the idea of the paschal candle and will only likely confuse the Christmas and Easter seasons—let the paschal candle remain associated with Easter and baptisms and funerals. Second, because the Advent wreath belongs to the season of preparation for Christmas, the wreath should no longer be on display, but removed, for services of Christmas allowing the two seasons to be well-defined and distinct.
The decoration of the church during Advent should not be to elaborate. A problem has arisen among many congregations when the cultural celebration of Christmas in the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is followed. Advent is a season of preparation for something greater. While not as austere as Lent, Advent does call for some restraint in deference to the “tidings of great joy” that will be proclaimed on the Nativity and during the season of Christmas (Maxwell). Candles as decoration should be kept to a minimum. Greenery may be hung but should remain undecorated. Banners may be hung but should be simple in style and decoration in keeping with the mood of the season. If the press of obligations makes it absolutely necessary to erect the tree before the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the lights should not be turned on until after service on the Fourth Sunday to help guide and highlight the transition from Advent to Christmas.
“The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of man might become the sons of God.” Leo the Great
The Christmas season follows as the fulfillment of the Advent expectation. The long-expected first coming (the Nativity) and birth in Bethlehem is the promise and guarantee of the second and final coming on the Last Day (see propers for the First Sunday in Advent).
Christmas is the celebration of the victory of the True Light born into the world dark in sin. God Himself visit us in our darkness. Heaven and earth are to be renewed by God’s coming (Gerhke).
The Gloria in Excelsis is the preferred Hymn of Praise. The restraint that characterized Advent is lifted. Second only to Easter, Christmas is observed in great joy and with high celebration.
Seasonal flowers and greens may decorate the area around the altar.
The color of Christmas and it’s season is white.
The Advent wreath has been removed. A crib or crèche may be set up in the nave and remains in the church through Epiphany when the Magi join in the adoration of the Christ Child.
Because of the association of light with Christmas, one of the most effective decorations of the church building is the candle. If candelabra were removed during Advent, these are returned. If extra candelabra or candle stands are available these can be placed around the altar. Candles on the window sills or candle stands lining the center aisle of the nave would be fitting.
Much could be said about decorations appropriate for use in the church, and the need to exclude anything that is gaudy or cheap. Also, it should be kept in mind when decoration the church, the altar always remains as the center of attention and focus, and anything that fights for that attention or distracts the focus should not be used.