The Church has her own special liturgical year and calendar in which she presents again the history and unchanging mysteries of our salvation, from Creation to the Second Coming, together with the entire life of the Savior. The mysteries do not change, but we do. A little older and wiser, we have the opportunity to review and renew these mysteries. When the familiar feasts come around we grasp something more about them because we have lived another year and apply them more deeply to our lives. This is a year of formation, like a school in which we, like pupils, learn faith, hope and charity. We learn God's will and to do God's will. Each Sunday and feast will present a special lesson to us for our daily living.
Advent is an especially lovely season and we can make great use of it. With the beginning of the season of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. The First Sunday of Advent is therefore the Church's "New Year's Day". In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Sunday begin at sundown of the day before when the faithful celebrate First Vespers. Advent begins the Christmas cycle.
Advent comes from the Latin word for an "arrival" or a "coming". Advent means that the Lord is coming. Jesus Christ, our brother in our humanity and our God in His divinity is about to arrive. But He is comes to us in different ways. First, Jesus came to us at a specific point in history at Bethlehem about 2000 years ago. But in the Church's great feast of Christmas He mystically comes again. Second, the Lord, Alpha and Omega, will come to judge the living and the dead in the Second Coming. Third, the Redeemer comes to us in grace. He speaks to us in our consciences, he comes to us in the Eucharist and in the Word of God proclaimed. He arrives in the person of the begger, the needy, the suffering, the oppressed. We must be ready to receive and welcome Him when He comes, however He comes.
Advent is a time of joy tinged with penance. Joy, because we can imagine nothing more sweet than the Christ Child and His Mother Mary's bliss at His coming to light. Penance because we must strive to be properly disposed to receive so great a gift of His presence. In the millennial tradition of the Church, we faithful have done penance before great feasts. Christmas and Easter each have their penitential seasons in anticipation, Advent and Lent. The liturgical color used in the Latin Church for the liturgy during both Advent and Lent is purple, a sign of penance. In some places people may see blue used, which is done without the Church's approval. The Latin Church also emphasizes the penitential dimension of the season by directing the use of sparse ornaments in church and by legislating that instrumental music should not be used, except to sustain congregational singing. This is a kind of liturgical fast, which makes the joy and celebration of Christmas all that much more powerful by the contrast of the lean and muted season of Advent. Advent is a time of great joy, because we look forward to the beautiful feast of the Nativity, but it is joy stitched through with somber and focused spiritual preparation by doing penance.