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What is advent?
The season of Advent is a time of preparation, reflection celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the anticipation of the second coming of Christ. We also celebrate the new life when someone accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior. It’s celebrated during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. It’s a great time to slow down from the frenzy of the holiday season and focus on the true reason for the season.
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which translates to the Greek word parousia. As we observe Advent, the church will usually hold special services, prayers, worship, light candles, and do scripture readings that emphasize hope, peace, love, and joy.
Christian traditions associated with the four weeks of Advent.
Commemoration of the birth of Jesus is one of the holiest times in the Christian faith. It is also a time to reflect on the triumphant return of Jesus at the second coming. People from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christian traditions celebrate Advent, though the specific practices may vary from community to community.
The Advent Season starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day and is marked by various traditions.
Advent is symbolized in the church or homes by a candlelit evergreen wreath. The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. 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.
However, the modern Advent wreath is created out of evergreens with four candles representing each Sunday of Advent. The circle shape of the wreath symbolizes God’s unending love and mercy and the evergreens represent eternal life in the midst of winter. We have found eternal life in Jesus Christ and he is there for us even during the dark times of life. Advent candles are often huddled in the evergreen wreath.
Some put more decoration on the wreath such as holly and berries whose red color symbolizes the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. Pinecones can also be added which point to the new life that Jesus brings through His resurrection.
The most common advent candle tradition includes four candles which are placed in a prominent spot in the home or church. Most times, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple and represent Advent’s traditional color. They also symbolize hope, peace, and love.
The third candle is rose-colored representing the halfway point of Advent and the joy of the coming holiday. Sometimes all the candles are red and in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white.
A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Advent candles shine brightly in the midst of darkness, symbolizing and reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world.
Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This is the Christ candle which marks the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and reminds us that the light of the world has come (John 8:12).
Scripture readings for the Sundays of advent
The celebration of Advent can be done in your home with your family as a meaningful way to keep Christ in Christmas. You can look at the different themes for each week and read from both the Old Testament and the New Testament on the birth and return of Christ. This can be done alongside candle lighting as each candle is lighted and represents a specific virtue in our faith.
The scripture for the first advent is focused on hope and these are the bible verses to read and reflect on.
On the second advent, our minds are focused on the anticipation of Christ and the peace he will bring, and the bible verse to read is Isaiah 40:3-5. This scripture encourages us to prepare our hearts for the return of Christ.
The third Sunday of Advent which is often referred to as Gaudete Sunday marks the halfway mark of the season of Advent and the emphasis is on the joy of Christ’s birth marked by reading Matthew 2:10-11. The final fourth Sunday of Advent focuses on the love and light he brings and the scripture reading is John 3:16-19.
This tradition is a fun way to countdown to Christmas. During the 19th century, adults began helping children count down the days until Christmas. Beginning on December 1, some German Lutherans tallied chalk marks on a door or wall in anticipation of the birth of Christ, and other parents created homemade ways to count down involving snacks and Bible verses.
An Advent calendar contains several covered “windows” that are opened, one a day, until Christmas Day. Modern-day advent calendars can include small gifts, chocolate, or fun cartoon images behind each window.
Having a nativity-themed Advent calendar with an open window that reveals a picture related to the season, a Bible story, or a Bible verse is a great tradition to have in your home. This helps our children and families remember the true meaning of the season.
Advent prayers and hymns
The celebration would not be complete during the Advent season without hymns. Music and worship bring our hearts close to the Lord and throughout both the Old Testament and New Testament we see the call to worship as one key aspect of an intimate relationship with the Lord.
The advent time speaks to the church’s situation today where we celebrate and recognize the greatest gift that we’ve been given- Christ Jesus who came to the world to give us salvation, redemption, and reconciliation and the hopeful anticipation we have for his return.
The advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s heart during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
The celebration of Advent doesn’t make one a better Christian than the one who doesn’t do it. While we don’t need to honor this time, we do it because we value what it represents. Remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and anticipation for the second coming of the Messiah are central themes of our faith that we should recognize and honor most times.
You may enjoy this video on “What is Advent?”
Or one of these recommended resources:
Advent – Bible Study Book: The Weary World Rejoices by Lifeway Women
Family Advent Devotional – Bible Study Book by Matt Chandler (Author), Lauren Chandler
The Christian virtues of hope, peace, joy, and love are central to the Christian lifestyle and it’s great to bring our attention and focus to them during the Christmas season. Ultimately, this is a season that calls us to slow down during the busy holiday season and come before God with a sincere heart and worship the greatest gift we’ve been given – Jesus Christ
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ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”