Greenery, candlelight and color fill church sanctuaries in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

For many churches, Sunday marks the start of Advent, four weeks of anticipating the coming of Jesus into the world.

"Advent is a preparation — preparation for the birth of Christ and for his second coming," said the Rev. Jeff Cranton, Presbyterian Church of Muskogee pastor. "In that spirit we prepare. We decorate, we light the Advent candles. We use our liturgies to put people in that mindset."

Church members decorated the sanctuary with greenery, a Nativity scene and with blue and purple banners and vestments.

"Purple and blue are interchangeable," Cranton said. "They're a symbol of royalty, of the coming King."

Members of First United Methodist Church spent last Sunday decorating the entire church, said the Rev. Mike Smith, pastor.

The sanctuary features an Advent wreath with four candles, Smith said. Each Sunday, a different family lights a candle.

"Our candles, of course, represent the love, hope, peace and joy — things that are traditional around Advent," he said. 

Smith said he'll have an Advent sermon series on "The Perfect Gift."

"During Christmas, we get caught up in the material things," he said. "We want to find that special, good and great gift. Then, the whole story of Christmas is that the perfect gift is in a place where people kind of missed it. "In a stable, in an out-of-the-way place, Jesus was born into our world."

First United Methodist also has an Angel Tree for families of incarcerated people and others who might not have gifts, Smith said. The church also collects for Cookson Hills ministry.

A First Family Christmas variety show, 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8 features music, fellowship and snacks, Smith said.

Candles carry an added meaning at St. Paul United Methodist, said Susan Thompson, who designs worship for the church. Two tables with 50 candles each are set up in the sanctuary.

"The congregation can come up during the prayer time and light prayer candles," she said. "They can light a candle for a loved one or a concern or for a hope."

St. Paul started the tradition during the 2018 Advent and it was well received, Thompson said.

"We wanted to repeat it because people found it a spiritual experience, just to come up during soft music and take a moment to either remember a loved one or pray for a concern," she said. "We have a worship attendant there to help them light from the host candle."

The church also marks Advent with special music and readings, she said.

"We have things we do in worship each Sunday," Thompson said. "We take a symbol each week, and we have a theme that we carry through the whole Advent season. We have banners carried in." 

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