Today, Wednesday, December 16th, is the first “Ember” Day of this new Christian year. Ember days are days when Christians are called to additional prayer and fasting. These days are celebrated four times a year, in Advent, Lent, Pentecost and Holy Cross Day. In each season the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the particular Feast Days are designated as Ember Days. In Advent these days come after the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13th; Wednesday because Christ was betrayed, Friday because Christ was crucified and Saturday because Christ died.
When I first heard of Ember days I thought of warm and cozy coals in a fireplace that would assist my meditation and prayer. Alas, not at all! The Anglo Saxon for “ember” is “ymbrem” which means “circuit” or “revolution” referring to the seasons of the year. In the Latin, Ember days are referred to as “quattour tempora” meaning “four times”, again referring to the seasons. Ember days are a time to pray for the church, and for the gifts of nature. Oddly enough, traditionally the Advent Ember days give thanks for the olive crop!
Mark 1: 1-8
As we continue our Advent voyage in this third week of Advent, both our expectations and preparations are heightened. This is well expressed in the exciting beginning to the Gospel of Mark;
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark is the oldest Gospel. This is the very beginning of a new genre of literature, Gospel writing. Right away we are told it will be “good news” about Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. And further, we are told, that this Gospel is the fulfillment of a prophecy that was written in Isaiah proclaiming the ministry of John the Baptist; “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The themes of preparation and expectation are boldly before us. John will prepare, as we wait expectantly for the way of the Lord. John stirs up our expectation further as he says; “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
May the Holy Spirit indeed fill all our preparations and expectations in this Advent season.
— Ralph Leavitt