Advent celebrates the threefold coming of the Lord: his birth in Advent cannot be prepared or celebrated in isolation from Christmas. Nor can Christmas be separated from the Paschal Mystery, whose apex is the Triduum. The interrelated nature of the seasons safeguards us against play-acting salvation history. Our rituals are not nostalgia, but a spiral through which “the church unfolds the entire mystery of Christ” (GNLYC 1). The liturgy then, actualizes the past in the present, to bring about the future.
Symbols and Signs of Advent
In the language of Advent – the scriptures and prayers, customs and colors, psalms and songs – we savor the sounds of our longing, all the while reveling that Christ is already in our midst. Pious poetry is not enough. It is more than the baby in Bethlehem, for the manger beckons at the foot of the cross. In the hush of silence we hold our breath in expectation. Near the open tomb, the angels too wait, for soon they will sing of the glory of God and of the Lord coming in glory. It takes at least four weeks of Advent to enter into its mystery.
While those of us in church work often decry the excessive commercialization of the period before Christmas, we might nevertheless be awed by the generous serving and giving that mark this season: donations of food, toys, and clothing to those less fortunate. That generous spirit is one of the gifts of the Advent season that should be appreciated.
Human hoping acquires a public face and for a while we become the hands and feet of Jesus. The object of our wanting can be transformed into a desire for peace, equal distribution of goods and care, more for those who have less, an end to violence. Swords become plowshares and the lion welcomes the lamb. We continue to be as countercultural as John the Baptizer was.
Among our icons of Advent stand the messengers: Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptizer, Isaiah even. Images and statues of such as these could be highlighted or displayed. The central images of Advent remind us that we live in an “in-between time” when the kingdom is present but not yet fulfilled. The link between past and present is also illustrated in the genealogies, reminding us of our connectedness to our ancestors in the faith, and our wide-flung communities of the present.
In the Northern hemisphere, the world loses all color as nature falls into dormancy and daylight hours fade. While grays may seem to dominate outdoors, the official color of the season of Advent is violet. To distinguish between this season and the more penitential season of Lent, the bluer hues of violet may be used during Advent, perhaps a set of vestments and paraments different from those used in Lent. Light blue vestments, however, are not authorized for use in the United States. On the Third Sunday, Gaudete or “Rejoice!” Sunday, shades of rose heighten the sense of expectancy.