It’s the Advent season again starting on 3rd December. Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas It means 'Coming' in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.
There are three meanings of 'coming' that Christians describe in Advent.
The first, and most thought of, happened about 2000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a baby to live as a man and die for us.
The second can happen now as Jesus wants to come into our lives now. And the third will happen in the future when Jesus comes back to the world as King and Judge, not a baby.
No one is really sure when Advent was first celebrated but it dates back to at least 567 when monks were ordered to fast during December leading up to Christmas.
Some people fast during advent to help them concentrate on preparing to celebrate Jesus's coming. In many Orthodox and Eastern Catholics Churches, Advent lasts for 40 days and starts on November 15th. It is also called the Nativity Fast. Orthodox Christians often don't eat meat and dairy during Advent, and depending on the day, also olive oil, wine and fish.
In medieval and pre-medieval times, in parts of England, there was an early form of Nativity scenes called 'advent images' or a 'vessel cup'. They were a box, often with a glass lid that was covered with a white napkin, containing two dolls representing Mary and the baby Jesus. The box was decorated with ribbons and flowers and sometimes apples. They were carried around from door to door. It was thought to be very unlucky if you hadn't seen a box before Christmas Eve! People paid the box carriers a halfpenny to see the box. In more modern times Church families pass a small crib scene from family to family for a day each up to Christmas day when the crib is brought into church.
There are some Christmas Carols that are really Advent Carols! These include 'People Look East', 'Come, thou long expected Jesus', 'Lo! He comes, with clouds descending' and perhaps the most popular advent song 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel!'. If you want to come and sing some of these Advent carols, then come along to St Mary’s at 6.30 on 3rd December for our Advent carol service.
There are several ways that Advent is counted down but one of the most common is with an Advent calendar. There are many types of calendars used in different countries. The most common ones in the UK are made of paper or card with 24 or 25 little windows. A window is opened on every day in December and a Christmas picture is displayed underneath. In the 19th Century, German protestant Christians counted down to Christmas by marking 24 chalk lines on a door and rubbing one off every day in December. Paper calendars were first popular in Germany in the early 1900s, although people made their own ones from the 1850s. There's a debate about exactly where and when the first mass produced calendar was printed - but it was certainly in Germany in the early 1900s! During World War II, the production of Advent calendars stopped due to a shortage of cardboard.
When they were first made, scenes from the Christmas Story and other Christmas images were used, such as snowmen and robins, but now many calendars are made in the themes of toys, television programmes and sports clubs. Some of these types of calendar even have chocolate under each window, to make every day in December that little bit better! I used to like those when I was a little boy (and still do now!!!)! The first calendar with chocolate in it was made in 1958, although they only became really popular in the 1980s. Some European countries use a wreath of fir with 24 bags or boxes hanging from it. In each box or bag there is a little present for each day.
There are also now all different types of Advent Calendars used to sell and promote different products including chocolate, perfumes, alcohol and beauty products. You can even get advent calendars for your pets with dog or cat treats in them! The world’s largest advent calendar was made in 2007 at the St Pancras Train Station in London, England. It was 71m tall and 23m wide and celebrated the refurbishment of the station. The most expensive advent calendar ever was made in 2010 by a jewellers in Belgium. It was made of 24 glass tubes each containing some diamonds and silver! It was worth about £2.1 million!!!
As we count down the days, let me encourage all of you to think and pray about how you might prepare for this Christmas. Do something different; Put a bit of peace and tranquillity into the otherwise frantic hyper busy days buying, cooking, decorating maybe partying. Spend some time in prayer (maybe fasting) preparing ourselves to receive Jesus, to celebrate his coming with joy and excitement.
The first Advent calendar with chocolate in was made in 1958