In terms of the colours of the season, this is one of the two purple seasons (the other preceding Easter being called 'Lent') that are taken up with examining ourselves and effectively cleaning the house that is our body from the detritus of sin and because of this are called 'penitential' seasons - because we are sorry (i.e. penitent) for the things we have done wrong that clutter up the rooms of our spiritual house.
The four Sunday's of Advent (Advent, 1, 2, 3 and 4) each have a meaning and traditionally (and within Common Worship services) these are:
The Patriarchs - Abraham, with whom it all begins through to David in whose city Jesus is born.
The Prophets - Those who foretold stuff regarding the who, what and how of Jesus.
John the Baptist - The herald for Jesus and the bloke who baptises Him at the start of His ministry.
TheVirgin Mary - The obedient young woman who becomes the theotokos (the god bearer)
And on Christmas Day we light the fifth candle for Jesus, The Christ
Our Advent Wreath usually has three red (Advent 1,2 and 4) and one pink candle (for Advent 3 - but you'll have to wait for that) with a central white candle (Christmas Day).
As you might expect, today's readings all look towards the end times and seek 'the light of God's face (Psalm 80) and the desire for God to come down to us (Isaiah 64). We read of how we are not lacking in any spiritual gift whilst we wait for Him (Jesus) to return (1 Corinthians 1) and the Gospel reading talk about the end of it all and the signs - with the entirety for us to 'keep awake'.
We traditionally sing the hymn above - it is our hope, our expectation and our heartfelt plea that Jesus does return, and soon at that (and yes, I have wondered whether He ever will and whether it might all be a con - it's what we are supposed to do - test, challenge, think and reason - and I can say that I do :-) ).
Just as people put their house in order so that it looks right when the guests come visiting, the same is true for the penitential seasons as we prepare for the coming of a Baby in Bethlehem and a Resurrected Jesus at Easter. The problem is that when people tidy they generally just hide the stuff where it can't be seen. But Jesus is coming and can see all the rooms and so it's about more than hiding stuff from sight, it's about clearing it out. And so here we are on the second of 2014's annual clear outs.
I love the Post Communion Prayer:
O Lord our God, make us watchful and keep us faithful as we await the coming of your Son our Lord; that, when he shall appear, He may not find us sleeping in sin but active in His service and joyful in His praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What a wonderful prayer for today and every day of our life, that we might not have our eyes closed and sinning but be wide awake and actively doing what is right. If only the Church was, the world would be a different place, wouldn't it?
And that's why we do Advent (which like Lent is losing favour with some - something I am personally rather sad about ).
So read the readings in the light of what I have written and pray that God shows you where the rubbish is to be found and gives you the courage to throw it out, whatever that might mean.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence - as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil - to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Psalm 80.1-8, 18-20
Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, you that led Joseph like a flock; Shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim, before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your mighty strength and come to our salvation. Turn us again, O God; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry at your people’s prayer? You feed them with the bread of tears; you give them abundance of tears to drink. You have made us the derision of our neighbours, and our enemies laugh us to scorn. Turn us again, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
Let your hand be upon the man at your right hand, the son of man you made so strong for yourself. And so will we not go back from you; give us life, and we shall call upon your name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
1 Corinthians 1.3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you - so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven,and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’