What Is Advent?

5 min read

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Advent’? For a long time, for me, it was about calendars, ideally containing chocolate. I remember waking up with such joy and excitement each morning in December when I was little. I would race my brother downstairs to see who could be the first to open the door of their calendar. But, as fun as that was, surely there is more to Advent than calendars and chocolate?

What Does Advent Mean?

Advent is a season of spiritual preparation during which Christians look forward to the coming of Jesus. Originally, Advent was marked by a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope, and joy.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:11

Many Christians celebrate Advent by thanking God for Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby and by anticipating His second coming at the end of the age through the Holy Spirit.

The term Advent is derived from the Latin term adventus, which means ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’, particularly the arrival of something significant. The Advent season is, therefore, a joyful, anticipatory celebration of the arrival of Jesus Christ and a period of repentance, meditation, and penance.

The Advent Season

Advent marks the beginning of the church year for denominations that observe the season. In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and lasts until Christmas Eve.

Advent is mainly observed in Christian churches that use an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials, fasts and holy days. However, an increasing number of Protestant and Evangelical Christians recognize the spiritual significance of this time and have begun to revitalize the spirit of the season through serious reflection, joyful expectation and observance of traditional Advent customs.

Advent For Me

There have been large portions of my adult life when I have been in a hurry, obsessed with the next event, idea or project. I have wanted to get what I was doing over quickly and move on to something more exciting. It’s why I was never a good gardener. I always wanted the fruit to appear ‘right now!’

For me, Advent is the antithesis to this approach. No matter how much I want Christmas day to be here, I can’t speed up the days. It seems that Advent is a slow, methodical march towards Christmas.

As I get older, I’ve found joy in that slow progression towards Christmas. Finally, I have time to pause, reflect and meditate on the Christmas season. I think about the Jewish people who waited hundreds of years for the Messiah. In the days of Advent, I think about their anticipation and patience, constantly keeping their eyes on God and His promises. When I slow down and embrace Advent, I find it teaches me about the faithfulness of God. 

Symbols And Traditions

Even if your church does not formally recognize Advent, you can still choose to incorporate Advent activities into your family holiday traditions. This can help keep Christ at the centre of your Christmas celebrations. For example, family worship around the Advent wreath, Jesse Tree or Nativity can deepen the meaning of the Christmas season. 

Here are some Advent ideas to help you as you prepare for Christmas.

Wreath For Advent

The tradition of lighting an Advent wreath dates back to Lutherans in 16th-century Germany. The Advent wreath is typically a circle of branches or garland with four or five candles arranged on it. Each Sunday during the Advent season, one candle on the wreath is lit as part of the corporate Advent services.

Many Christian families enjoy making their own Advent Wreath as part of their home celebration of the season. Three purple (or dark blue) candles and one rose pink candle are set on a wreath, and a single, larger white candle is often placed in the centre. Then, each week of Advent, one more candle is lit.

The advent candles and their colors are rich in symbolism. Each represents a different aspect of Christmas spiritual preparations.Purple represents repentance and royalty. Pink symbolizes happiness and joy. And white represents purity and light.

Each candle is also labeled with a name. The Prophecy Candle or Candle of Hope is the first purple candle. The Bethlehem Candle, also known as the Candle of Preparation, is the second purple candle. The Shepherd Candle, also known as the Candle of Joy, is the third (pink) candle. The fourth candle, which is purple, is known as the Angel Candle or the Candle of Love. The Christ Candle is the final (white) candle.

The Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree is a unique Advent tree tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages and is based on Isaiah’s prophecy of the Jesse Tree.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.

Isaiah 11:10

This Christmas tradition can be beneficial and enjoyable for teaching children about the Bible. The Jesse Tree represents Jesus Christ’s family tree, or genealogy. It can be used to tell the story of salvation from the beginning of time until the arrival of the Messiah.

Advent Devotionals

The weeks leading up to Christmas are a great opportunity to read through and reflect on the Scriptures that foretell the birth of Christ. From the prophecies in Isaiah to the visitations of angels in the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke, we can take this special time to marvel again at the miracle that is Immanuel, God with us. Let your devotionals during December bring you back to the place of worship of the shepherds, at the feet of Jesus, the Messiah who came to save us from our sins. The Glorify App is a great place to turn for a daily devotional inspiration.

I hope this has inspired you to observe Advent this year beyond chocolate calendars. However you celebrate, I pray you have peace, joy and hopeful expectation.

Photos by Chad Madden on Unsplash


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