Advent is that time of the Church year when we prepare for the “coming” of Christ. Advent, from the Latin word adventus, is the season of the Church year before Christmas.
According to Catechism of the Catholic Church, “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. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’” (524).
There is a compelling stewardship message found in this passage of the Catechism. Stewardship very much reflects putting Christ at the center of our lives (“He must increase”) and recognizing our need to serve God, the Church, and others (“I must decrease”). Advent is an important time for us as individuals and as families to emphasize the holy nature of this season. Three dominant Advent traditions have developed which allow us on a daily basis to bring our thoughts back to the significance of this Church season.
The first is, quite simply, the Advent wreath. Most of us are familiar with and aware of the Advent wreath, as it is a common practice in parishes to have a wreath and to trace the progress of Advent with it. By placing an Advent wreath in our homes, praying around it and lighting the appropriate candles are wonderful opportunities to travel with the Lord on a daily basis. The Advent wreath is actually a more recent tradition, beginning in Germany 100 years ago and then spreading through Europe and to the United States. The wreath is circular, representing God’s eternity, and it includes four candles – one for each Sunday and week of Advent. To light the candles and to pray every day is a wonderful way for families to share and focus.
The second tradition is the Jesse Tree, named for the father of David. This tree is decorated gradually throughout Advent with pictures and symbols of Biblical persons associated with the coming of the Messiah, Christ. You may include Noah, the ark, Abraham, Moses, a “burning bush,” Joseph, Mary, or any of a number of other familiar Biblical figures and events. It is a teaching opportunity for children in particular, and also a good way for families to gather and to pray, and to reflect upon preparing for Christ’s coming.
Although it has become quite commercialized, the last key tradition is the Advent calendar. Advent calendars tend to follow the calendar month of December, not the four Sundays of Advent, which can begin as early as late November. In recent years, these calendars have increasingly utilized secular images, but if a person or family wishes the calendar to be most beneficial, it needs to be religious and Christian in nature. This, too, affords an opportunity to pause, to reflect, and to pray every day during the Advent season.
The themes and traditions of the Advent season have evolved throughout history. At one time, Advent was more like Lent – penitential in nature. We and our families need to do things that are prayerful and prepare us spiritually for the Second and final Coming of Christ, as well. Stewardship involves planning, practicing our faith, and transmitting it to those close to us. These traditions can fulfill and help that effort.