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‘Tis certainly the season to be jolly, but also to experience the true joy, anticipation and preparation for the real Christmas presence.Christians are in the middle of Advent, the four-week period of joyful waiting for the birth of Jesus.To the Rev. Amy Aitken of California Heights United Methodist Church in Long Beach, Advent is a time to pause, reflect and gather thoughts.“The season has been taken over by Christmas, that’s the reality,” Aitken said. “It’s taken over the whole notion there’s a season of preparing and watching. The time to slow down has been completely swallowed up by a culture that seems to start on Thanksgiving Day and go to Christmas in a supersonic mode.” Wilkerson said he used to struggle with preparations like everyone else – buying gifts and writing cards while keeping up with his church duties.“You get to the point where you want to walk the other way,” he said. “But then I think, ‘I love the season,’ and I take some time each day to center myself.”The prophet Isaiah spoke of the new world to come, a world of peace where enemies would sit down together, the bishop said. The Old Testament story is a reminder of the peace, joy and contentment as the world awaits God’s promise of a savior.“When I found out I could hang on to that that, I found I can approach these tasks in a different way,” Wilkerson said. “When I write Christmas cards – I have to send a whole heck of a lot of them – each person I send one to, it’s an act of love.“The same thing with buying gifts. I don’t want to go in the traffic and the crowds, but when I think I’m doing this out of love, it changes my whole outlook.”One symbol of Advent is the wreath – traditionally built around three reddish-purple candles signifying penitence as well as royalty in anticipation of savior’sof the savior’s birth; and one rose candle, lit the week of Christmas, to emphasize the joy of the Christ’s pending arrival.Some Protestant churches have switched to blue candles, symbolizing the night sky, to differentiate between Advent and the more solemn season of Lent, preceding Christ’s death and resurrection.Like many symbols of the season, the wreath, created in Germany in recent centuries, is an adaptation of a secular tradition: People of Northern Europe lit the candles during the cold, dark winter as they awaited the return of the sun.The adventAdvent calendar is another mark of the season, mostly for children. Crafted of paper, cardboard or fabric and artfully decorated, the calendar has tiny doors that are opened each day of Advent, revealing religious pictures inside.The four Sundays of Advent celebrate hope, peace, joy and love. This Sunday marks the celebration of Mary and her humility in answering God’s call to Christ’s mother, Aitken said.“This Sunday it’s Mary’s song – the greatness of the Lord for Mary as she paints this picture of God lifting the lowly and honoring the poor – those the world doesn’t necessarily care about,” she said. “She proclaims God is doing this wonderful thing in choosing a young woman to bring God into the world.”Karla Devine is the artistic director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan Beach, and will present an Advent and Christmas concert on Sunday. The Advent songs in the church hymnal are her favorites.“There are such wonderful hymns and they’re so overlooked,” Devine said.The entire Christmas season, she said, is somewhat skewed, with Christmas Day ofviewed as the end, rather than the first of 12 days of celebration.“I love the season of waiting and preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ and waiting for the second coming of Christ.”[email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champAdvent traditionally begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day – this year it started Dec. 2 – and ends on Christmas Eve.“Advent” comingcomes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” The focus is on the pending return of Christ while celebrating his birth.Bishop Gerald G. Wilkerson, who oversees the San Fernando Valley pastoral region of the Catholic Archidiocese of Los Angeles, said he, too, is troubled that Advent has been minimized by the hustle of the holiday season.But he’s also learned to use his preparation for Christmas as a time to reflect on his faith.“Yes, you can get very, very busy with all the things that go on, but it’s really up to the individual to make the difference,” he said. “You have to take charge of your life. Even though there are all these forces, you have to take control.”