Advent, which starts Sunday, signals a reflective time of “waiting and watching” for Christians.

Ruby Petersal, director of religious education at Blessed John Paul II Parish, said the season, a preparation time not only for the birth of Christ but for His second coming, will be ushered in with a special program Sunday at St. Joseph Church, 420 North St. NW.

Jim Johnston, a director of music, will present an overview of Advent traditions and focus on the “O Antiphons.”

Johnston, who has some 40 years of liturgical music experience, plays guitar and leads the hymns for the 9 a.m. Sunday services at the parish.

He’ll be offering an insightful and uplifting program with emphasis on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the best known of the “O Anitiphons.”

He explained that the seven verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” refer to different attributes to describe Jesus.

Each verse begins with “O come” and refers to Jesus as Emmanuel, wisdom from on high, Lord of might, rod of Jesse’s stem (the house of David), key of David, dayspring from on high and desire of nations.

Johnston also noted that the “O Antiphons” also are included in certain daily prayers during Advent.

And those prayers focus on the references to Jesus and the various descriptions in Scripture.

“The anitiphons were originally chanted by monks,” Johnston said. They date back about 1,100 years.

Johnston said the “O Antiphons” are an “example of how Christians imaged God.”

But realistically, Johnston asked, can the human imagination capture the essence of God.

“At Christmas, God meets man on a human level,” he said, adding that’s in the birth of the Christ child.

Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation, Petersal said.

“Christians anticipate Christ’s arrival as the promise of the ages.”

The Rev. Chris Henyk, pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish, said he believes people like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” because it has a “catchy melody” that’s easy to sing.

But, he noted, the hymn also expresses longing and anticipation.

“We’re anticipating the big day when the Messiah is born,” Father Henyk said.

“Our hearts are ready to celebrate Christmas,” he said after the preparatory weeks of Advent.

“Advent is a time of expectation .... for the greatest gift,” the pastor said.

It is a time, he added, that should help take us away from the commercialism of the season.

“It should remind us what this time is about.”

The Advent wreath is among tools to mark the passing of time as it gets closer to Christ’s birth.

The wreath traditionally has three purple candles, the color of Advent, and one rose-colored candle.

Some wreaths may have a white candle in the center, symbolizing the light of Christ.

A candle is lighted each Sunday; the rose candle is lighted on the third Sunday in recognition of the rejoicing that will occur when Christ is born.

Father Henyk said Advent calendars also are another seasonal custom used mostly in the Protestant tradition.

“They are popular in Europe,” the native of the country of Poland said.

While people participate in the other customs, it is music that takes worship to another level.

“There’s a saying about when you sing you pray twice,” Johnston said. “Your heart beats differently. Your whole body is in the prayerful experience.”

Johnston said he sees music “bringing people together as one in song.”

Johnston will reveal a “surprise” in the antiphons. To find out what that is, attend the program Sunday.

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