I love the First Sunday of Advent. For weeks, the scent of the Christmas season has been in the air; the odd (normally very odd) rogue ad on the radio, Christmas decorations appearing in stores in a bewildering array of colour and shape combinations and a veritable forest of artificial fir trees sprouting up in garden centres and hardware stores. There’s a kind of smell unique to artificial Christmas trees, a sort of ‘having-been-kept-in-a cold-Norweigian-warehouse-for-a-year’ smell that never fades no matter how long you’ve owned your pseudo-prickly family heirloom. I’m an avid Christmas aisle stalker – can’t get enough of twinkly faux Dickensian water mill ornaments or nodding wire reindeer which you can plug into the mains (hmmmm), and I’ve become worse since Caitie arrived. But all of this is just a tacky sideshow really, a sideshow that I try, albeit somewhat halfheartedly, to avoid until Advent. This morning, we had the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent. The Advent Crown stood on its stand in front of the lectern, and Caroline had assembled a choir which sang a beautiful sequence, `Await the Lord with hope, await the Lord with joy. Keep vigil for the coming of the reign of God,’ as the altar servers carrying the cross and candles, followed by Fr Tom, processed up the aisle. Seeing the celebrant in a purple chasuble instead of the familiar green was the first visual surprise – the rich purple signifying that we had entered a new and important phase of the Church’s year; like Lent, a period of reflection and preparation for a time when God’s hand directly intervenes in the destiny of mankind.
Fr Tom called the children forward to the front of the church and then, before they left for the Children’s Liturgy, he got one of the older children to light the first purple candle of the Advent Wreath while he prayed and the choir sang. Caitie watched wrapt as the candle was lit, realising, I think, that Christmas – real Christmas, the Christmas of mystery and miracle, not the artificial, candyfloss, superficial but admittedly fun secular Christmas – was coming at last.