Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his ﬁnal advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement:
Every eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty. (Charles Wesley)
The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. The characteristic note of Advent is therefore expectation, rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily coloured by an analogy with Lent. The anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness, but the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’ (1 Corinthians 16.22). Church decorations are simple and spare, and purple is the traditional liturgical colour. In the northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The lighting of candles on an Advent wreath was imported into Britain from northern Europe in the nineteenth century, and is now a common practice. The Moravian custom of the Christingle has similarly enjoyed great success in Britain since the latter part of the twentieth century, with the encouragement of the Children’s Society; A Christingle services takes place at St John's on Christmas Eve. The Third Sunday of Advent was observed in medieval times as a splash of colour in the restrained atmosphere of Advent (Gaudete or ‘Rose Sunday’), and the last days of Advent were marked by the sequence of Great ‘O’ Antiphons, which continue to inspire modern Advent hymns and meditations.
Special Services at St John's
Advent Sunday is marked with special liturgies at our morning worship and sometimes includes an inter-faith dimension to tie in with Edinburgh's Inter-Faith week. The evening sees Choral Evensonmg replaced with an Advent Carol Service
Evensong is replaced on the Second & Third Sundays of Advent with a special Service of Light, picking up on the themes of the season but still inclusing some appropraite choral music.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent being the Sunday before Christmas sees our annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols ion the evening.