For most, Advent is a word that is more associated with the chocolate-filled calendar than any religious event. But Advent calendars are counting down to something. This week's clergy explain the meaning behind the numbers.

Patrick Smith, interim pastor, Mattituck Presbyterian Church: Advent, traditionally in many Christian denominations, is the four-week period preceding Christmas. It is a time of waiting in anticipation of what is coming. For us in the Christian faith, it is the birth of Jesus. Specifically, it is the four-week period before Christmas morning.

We specifically set aside time to think about who Jesus is. It also is a great time for lapsed Christians to step back into connection with some form of church worship, to get together and worship with others.

Most people usually end up paying so much attention to Christmas that we forget the preparation in advance of the day. That is the beauty of Advent. It gives us an opportunity to examine our hearts, minds and souls in a fresh way.

Christmas season gets us geared up in all kinds of ways: planning things, going places, shopping, giving presents. We forget to deliberately slow down to give thought and contemplation to God

coming to Earth. That slower pace during the holiday season may be one of the best gifts of all we give to ourselves and others. It is a good time to think about your faith and how you approach it.

God chose to come to Earth and be born as Jesus. For Christians especially, take time to not rush into Christmas. Really embrace it. The contemplation of an Advent calendar should lead to joy, happiness and all the cool things that enhance the holiday for us.

Father Sean Gann, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, Kings Park: In preparation for the joy of Christmas, many Christians observe the ancient season of Advent.

It has profound spiritual significance because it is a season of looking forward and waiting for something greater; both for the annual celebration of the event of Christ's birth, and for the time when Christ will come again. Annually, we recall the two "advents" of Christ, the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come.

We are reminded again not only of our need for the savior, but of our longing for him. The season of Advent offers us the opportunity to embrace the spiritual practices of waiting, patience and hope. These are valuable lessons but they come to us during the rush and clamor of the holiday season, and so the beauty and significance of Advent can often be overlooked and unobserved.

The Rev. Harry Schenkel, pastor, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, East Northport: There is great expectation and preparation when a baby is coming. The season of Advent on the church's calendar is the time to get ready for the coming of Jesus -- not just his birth in the manger more than 2,000 years ago, but also to prepare for the day when he will come again.

A child's birth is usually a happy occasion filled with great joy, but the coming of Christ, the son of God, into the world was a bittersweet event. Jesus came to save the creation from the devastating effects of sin and death. The child in the manger was born to sacrifice and die for us. Therefore, the four Sundays of Advent counting down to Christmas offer us the opportunity to prepare by focusing on repentance and the blessing of God's grace.

The time of Advent is marked by deliberate counting, whether it is by lighting a candle for each Sunday on an Advent wreath or by using a daily calendar that is opened with a reading or blessing. The color of Advent is purple or blue, colors in the church year that signify a time to get ready as something great is happening because of God's love.


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