Robert L. Millet Blog Posts
Publications Director of BYU Religious Studies Center
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The term Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “appearance.” Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent helps Christians not only to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus Christ but also to look forward to his glorious Second Coming. Although Advent customs may be foreign to many, like so many other seasonal traditions they are a wonderful way to turn our attention more fully to the true meaning of Christmas.
Many Advent traditions come from Germany, where Martin Luther encouraged its continued observance as a way of teaching children and families more about the significance of the coming of Jesus Christ. It came to be celebrated by both Roman Catholics and Lutherans there and has become a common celebration in many Christian faith communities throughout the world.
One of the best known Advent customs is the lighting of the candles in an Advent wreath, a simple or decorated evergreen wreath with four candles placed in the circle and a single white candle in the center. The wreath itself represents the never-ending circle of God’s love, that he is forever the same in his love toward his people. The green of the wreath, as in the Christmas tree, represents the hope of eternal life that comes through Christ and serves a reminder of the freshness of God’s love and promises. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World, that his birth represented the coming of the light into darkness, and that we are called to reflect that light in our lives.
The outer candles are purple, the color of royalty, although customarily the third one is rose or pink. Traditions differ regarding the symbolism of the candles. One is that they represent the hope, love, joy, and peace that come through Jesus Christ. Each Sunday before Christmas an additional candle is lit, creating a beautiful stepped effect as the previous weeks’ candles burn down further. Scriptures can be read and carols sung as part of the lighting, which we do before family prayer. The four candles can also represent the different Old Testament covenants that God made with his servants, beginning with Noah and continuing through Abraham, Moses, and David. The central white candle is known as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and represents the new covenant made possible through Christ.
While formally observing Advent is not part of the Latter-day Saint tradition, individuals and families can often adapt and employ such traditions for their own use. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has spoken positively of the Advent traditions that he grew up with in Germany in a recent First Presidency Christmas devotional, as have other converts to the Church. As my wife and I were developing our own family traditions early in our marriage, observing Advent was one that we found enriched our Christmas season, and in recent years we have found that it is a wonderful way to teach our children, share spiritual experiences with them, and keep them focused on the true meaning of Christmas.
For LDS families, Advent can be adapted by reading not only from the Old Testament and New Testament but also from the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price (see our selection at my Advent site). While not all families may wish to observe such Advent customs, spending time with the scriptures and enjoying beautiful music on the Sundays of Advent can be uplifting and provide meaningful reflection on the season.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Recently, I visited Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland, Oregon. Powell’s is one of the remarkable independent booksellers in the United States, reportedly the largest seller of new and used books in the world, covering an entire city block and featuring more than one million titles.
As I wandered this famous landmark, I noticed in the author-autographed section Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World (New York: Free Press, 2009). The title intrigued me because of my interest in the subject (see my November 3, 2008, posting, “Solitude, Silence, and Darkness“), and I quickly added it to my armful of books. Hempton is an award-winning sound recorder who lives in Port Angeles, Washington, near Olympic National Park—the site of “one square inch” whose sounds and silence he has recorded.
This book tells the story of his epic road trip across the United States to record the natural landscape of America. He filled his 1964 VW van with a decibel-measuring sound meter and recording equipment before starting out for the East Coast. It is difficult to escape the noise of the modern world, as Hempton demonstrates. Even in some of the quietest places in America—our national parks—airplanes break the silence or modern labor-saving devices used by the park’s employees themselves sometimes disturb both humans and animals present.
When he finally arrived in Washington DC, where he met with federal officials to advocate legislation that would preserve natural silence in national parks, he had recorded the sounds, images, and word pictures of some amazing places, including some of the backcountry in Utah (121–56). The book features a CD preserving those sounds.
Certainly, we face noise pollution today. We have to turn the TV, radio, or iPod off if we are to get some peace and quiet. As Hempton notes, “The words peace and quiet are all but synonymous, and are often spoken in the same breath” (12).
Hempton notes the benefits of a quiet, natural place. He suggests that “good things come from a quiet place: study, prayer, music, transformation, worship, communion” (12). He argues that “if we turn a deaf ear to the issue of vanishing natural quiet,” we lose something precious, something irreplaceable (3). He notes, “It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the sounds of the natural environment” (2).
In an interesting insight, Hempton observes, “Wildlife depend on their sense of hearing to detect the approach of predators and will not remain very long in places where it is difficult to hear” (20). Interestingly, he opines, “Only hearing can monitor every direction at once, even foretelling what may lie around the corner” (56). I could not help but wonder if humans struggle to hear the voice of the Spirit, which could warn them of unseen dangers or what lies around the corner, because of the increasing levels of noise that so often seek to distract us from more lofty and noble thoughts and actions. Maybe we do not enjoy such experiences often enough—the natural silence and sounds required to attune our ears to a heavenly voice. Increasingly, competing voices and sounds seek to fill our ears with advice and sounds that keep us away from the things of the Spirit. These voices and sounds are not only seeking to capture our attention; they want to capture our hearts as well.
The Psalmist said, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). A timeless truth from the past—it was good advice then and is good advice now.