Advent and Why We Celebrate
The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming, which comes from the Greek word parousia.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, Advent was a season of preparation for the celebration of Epiphany, a festival on January 6, commemorating God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to Jesus, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana. During the Advent season, Christians would spend 40 days in prayer, repentance, and fasting for the coming of Epiphany; originally, Advent was little connected to Christmas.
By the sixth century, Roman Christians tied Advent to the coming of Christ—but not His coming in a manger. Advent became a celebration of Christ’s second coming. It was during the Middle Ages that Advent was linked to Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem.
Today, Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The new Christian year begins with a 12-day celebration from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6.
The Church in these last days is much like the Israelites at the end of the Old Testament. We find ourselves, as it were, in exile in a foreign land, waiting with eager expectation of Christ’s second coming.
Advent combines the elements of remembrance and anticipation. We reflect and remember and we anticipate His second coming. To balance these elements, the first two Sundays of Advent look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays look backward to remember Christ’s first coming.
Though it may be challenging to keep in mind in the midst of holiday decorating and shopping, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting and reflection. One catechism describes Advent in this way: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming.”
Advent celebrates Christ’s coming as Emmanuel, God with us! Advent celebrates God’s coming in Acts 2 at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Advent celebrates and anticipates Christ’s soon return.
The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the four white candles were lit on Sundays. Eventually, the Advent wreath was created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and eternal life in Christ.
The most common Advent tradition involves four or five candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas and the fifth on Christmas Eve. We often think of Christmas colors of red, green, silver, and gold. However, these are not the common Advent celebration colors. Three of the four candles are purple or violet representing royalty and repentance. These three candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays. The third Sunday candle is pink, representing the joy of Advent. The fifth, a white candle, is lit on Christmas Eve, representing the purity and holiness of Christ and His birth. Oftentimes, the first candle is used to remind us of God’s creation and the forgiveness granted at the garden. The second candle reminds us of God’s incarnation. The third, represents the joy found in God’s covenant with David of an eternal seed and redemption from sin. The fourth, represents the second coming of Christ.
Why should believers make the Advent festival a family and church priority?
- Advent reminds us we are not the center of God’s plan
We are reminded throughout Scripture of God’s eternal plan. Romans 5:8 reminds us that while we were still sinners, enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us. Revelation unfolds the eternal portrait of redemption. Hebrews declares the mystery and revelation of this eternal plan throughout the ages. Continually we are reminded that we are included in this eternal plan, and are benefactors of it, but we are certainly not the main characters in the story.
- Advent reminds us of those who have gone before us
Hebrews 11 reminds us of the faith of many of those who have gone before us who by faith obtained a good testimony, but their faith is connected to ours (Heb 11:40). Many generations awaited the Messiah’s first coming. They endured hardships, were pilgrims in exile, were persecuted. Advent reminds us of their faith and humbles us to see God’s plan of the ages unfolding. We are reminded to endure with longsuffering in an evil age.
- Advent reminds us to reflect
In the hustles and bustle of holidays, we are reminded to slow down, remember and celebrate. The end of the year is not about gift giving and decorations, but so much more. We remember the ages of prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. We remember the covenant of God with David for an eternal seed. We remember the generations that awaited the Messiah’s appearing. We remember Simeon and Anna who eagerly awaited the Messiah in the temple. We remember Christ’s coming in a manger and that God came into His creation. We remember Christ’s ministry on earth and His heavenly ministry today. We remember the prophecies concerning Christ’s second coming. We remember who He has called us to be.
- Advent reminds us of Christian discontentment
Christ’s coming, crucifixion, and resurrection would have been enough—more than enough, but He gives so much more and calls us to hunger and thirst after Him. It is our blessing to cultivate and nurture our desire for Him. There is a longing in our hearts for His second coming. There is a longing for Him to reveal Himself to us in Scripture and in our worship. Creation is groaning for this revelation (Ro 8:23). The martyrs cry out, “how long, O Lord” (Rev 6:10). Jesus blessed hunger and thirsting for righteousness in the beatitudes. Advent encourages our holy discontentment.
- Advent encourages us in the promises of God
As we reflect on God’s promises and His answers of the past, we are able to have great anticipation for what He will do ahead of us. We have confidence in His promise of His soon return and thus we are inspired to evangelize, to continue on in our fellowship together and brotherly love, and willing to endure suffering with great joy. Advent reminds us that as God has met many others in the unfolding of His eternal plan, He also will meet us today. He truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)