Advent marks the beginning of the church year. It is a time for reflection in darkness, for renewal of hope and for a movement towards a beginning.
The season of Advent, as it first emerged in the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, lasted, like Lent, for 40 days. Later tradition developed the Advent we know today, of four Sundays before Christmas Day.
It is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ. Church decorations are simple and sparse, and purple is the traditional colour used. Advent falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas.
Lord Jesus, Light of light,
you have come among us.
Help us who live by your light
to shine as lights in your world.
Glory to God in the highest.
Christmas is one of the highlights of the Christian year and a time of great celebration.
We celebrate the mystery of God coming to live among humanity as one of us in the person of Jesus, son of Mary, the saviour promised by the prophets of the Old Testament.
This great feast that marks the anniversary of Jesus’ birth has inspired the many joyful customs and traditions that we use to mark Christmas. Many of these – carols, cribs, decorations, and special foods – are shared with and enjoyed by millions of people across the world. But there is more than tinsel, trees and reindeer. There is amazement, wonder and joy here.
The gospel accounts of the first Christmas provide so many ways for us to enter into the mystery of God becoming human. There are hosts of angels filling the night sky with singing; a group of astounded shepherds on a hillside who find their lives and expectations turn upside down; there is a shining star and the birth of a child, which, like many other births before and since, bring hope and possibility.
And the readings for Christmas day – including the prologue to John’s gospel – invite us to look beyond the joy of Jesus’ birth to the significance of his life, and the saving power of his future death and resurrection.
The season of Christmas lasts for twelve days, culminating in another feast – that of the Epiphany on 6th January, when we recall how Jesus was first revealed to the wider world in the visit of the Magi (or Wise Men).