For the first few centuries before Christianity was legal, there were no grand buildings in which to gather and worship. The word “church” referred to the people of God, not a building. And the church gathered in homes, families joining families, to worship, evangelize, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
Over time the Church has grown and developed, guided by the Holy Spirit, into parishes that make up dioceses that make up the worldwide structure we know today. But that doesn’t mean the family, the “domestic church,” is no longer important. It is still the primary place where we come to know the gospel message of God’s love and mercy.
Advent is the perfect time to reflect on the role of the family in the life of faith. Many of our advent traditions are centered in the home. The advent wreath with its four candles (three purple and one pink), connect the home to the liturgy. The candles represent each of the four Sundays of advent. The purple candles remind us of the penitential and preparatory nature of advent. The pink candle, lit on the third Sunday, represents Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word that opens the antiphon song on the third Sunday of advent. It means rejoice and it reminds us that the Lord’s coming is near. Families can experience the growing light of the advent wreath (in the midst of the growing days of darkness) as Christmas nears and Christ our Light enters the world.
Other traditions help tell the Christmas story. Advent calendars that count down the days to Christmas traditionally contained Bible verses that told the story of Jesus’s birth. Nativity scenes are another way to tell the story. They are especially helpful to show the liturgical seasons. Advent, the season of waiting, has the empty manger. At Christmas, the baby Jesus is placed in the manger. And the season of Christmas, the traditional twelve days that the carol speaks of, can be kept as the wise men travel throughout the house and approach the crèche, arriving on Epiphany.
Even the Christmas tree and decorations of greens speak to the story of Christmas. The evergreen is the only tree that remains green throughout the winter. Thus it reminds us of God’s promise to be ever faithful and present, even in the most barren of times.
In October the bishops gathered for a Synod on the Family. They listened to the experiences of married couples and considered the role of the family in the light of faith. Perhaps they were bringing us back to our roots when they concluded “the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization.” This advent, how will your family “evangelize” and share the good news of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with Us?
~ Renee Bhatia

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