The season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. Advent 2019 begins on Sunday, December 1st and ends on Tuesday, December 24th.
Today we begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent is significant in two ways: It prepares us for Christmas, as we recall Christ’s nativity in Bethlehem. We are frequently reminded of the first meaning of Advent because we are surrounded by Christmas decorations almost everywhere, even though we are just starting our journey into Advent.
In many churches and households throughout the world we keep the beautiful tradition of having an Advent wreath with 4 candles. The wreath is a part of our long-standing part of our Advent traditions here at the church.
The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the four white candles were lit on Sundays.
Eventually, the Advent wreath was created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death as the evergreen is continuously green. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and the eternal life He makes possible.
Advent candles are often nestled in the evergreen wreath. Additional decorations, like holly and berries, are sometimes added. Their red color points ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross, shedding his blood for our sins. Pine cones can symbolize the new life that Jesus brings through His resurrection.
Families and Churches begin lighting a candle on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and they light another candle each following Sunday.
Advent candles shine brightly in the midst of darkness, symbolizing and reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world.
The Story and Meaning of White Gift Sunday
White Gift Sunday dates back to 1904 in Ohio. The wife of a Methodist minister and her two daughters came up with the idea of giving gifts wrapped in white paper at Christmas time to people in need.
Gifts are wrapped in white so that they will be anonymous. People who can only give a little will not be embarrassed. There is a Chinese tradition where all the people gave their king a gift wrapped in plain white paper so that every gift would look the same. People gave the king what they were able, and the king welcomed them all.
The White Gift shares in the spirit of Christ and the God of love at Christmas. Today we give gifts of love to people in need. Many times now, they are not wrapped in white paper but the meaning behind them is still the same. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Act 20:35
As we give our gifts once again this year, may we take the time to reflect on all the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love that is ours.”
“ The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you”
This time of year, we associate many symbols with Christmas. These symbols bring us Joy as we decorate our homes, churches and work places. Here is the meaning behind some of these symbols.
Stars - Stars are the most familiar Christmas symbols. They represent the star of Bethlehem which guided the Wisemen to the Christ Child. They remind us that we should diligently seek Him every day.
Bells – Sheep wear bells so the shepherd can easily locate them. Bells reminds us to locate those in need, and to bring them into the fold. Also, for centuries bells have been used to announce special events.
Christmas Tree – For Centuries, the evergreen tree has been a common symbol of eternal life. It reminds us that because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we will all enjoy eternal life.
Wreath – In many cultures the circle is a symbol of eternity, having no beginning and no end. The wreath combines evergreen boughs in a circle as a symbol of never-ending love.
Candy Canes -Shepherds used crooks to bring lambs back into the fold. Candy Canes remind us we are all our brother’s keeper.
There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? This week, I found out.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol.