It's a long voyage indeed. Today I get to wish everyone a happy new year. Yep, November 30. The body of Christ has long observed the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day as the start of the year. Andrew, the first apostle to be called by Jesus, the one who found and brought his brother Simon, has his day today. And today, being Sunday, we start the new year. It's a time of new beginnings. It's a time to look again to the Lord, asking him to come with his forgiveness and grace.
How do we start the year? Is it a big party? Actually, that's another counter-cultural factor of the Church. We begin the year with a period of repentance. The season of Advent is a time for preparation to welcome the Christ who is to come. We look to his second coming but we also look to the celebration of his first coming, in a manger, in humble circumstances. And as we look to the coming of Christ we humble ourselves. We sing songs which are subdued. It's a time of fasting. It's a time for repentance. It's a time to look forward to Christ, the redeemer of the world, whose coming we will recognize on December 25.
Happy new year! It's time to start out the day slowly and carefully, knowing that everything will be cooking for real pretty soon.
By the way, people often ask about the tradition of Advent candles and wreaths. For what it's worth, that's a pretty new custom, dating back into the 1800s. There are four candles around the perimeter. One is often rose colored, while the others are usually blue or purple. There may or may not be a white candle in the middle. On the first Sunday of Advent light the one which is toward the front. Work around clockwise, one candle at a time. On Christmas, light the white candle if there is one. Different commentators have assigned different significances to the individual candles or different themes to the different weeks. It's up for grabs. A fun thing but by no means with a long history or any definitive traditions.
The Advent candles or an Advent calendar do give us a good structure for taking on something new or rededicating ourselves to something old, maybe a brief family Bible reading, singing a song, or having an extra time of prayer for some situation in the world.