By Mike Littleton
I can remember Christmas as a child like it was yesterday. My two younger sisters and I would wake up around 3:00 a.m. to go see the large pile of presents under the tree, and in the dark stillness of the night, we’d open our stockings. I guess this was our own little tradition. We’d then go back to sleep until about 5:30 a.m. at which time we’d do our best to gently nudge (not really though) our parents out of bed so we could open up everything else.
There was no day throughout the year so eagerly anticipated like the coming of like Christmas Day.
Though my experience misses the point of Christmas entirely, and the Advent season, in particular, it does get to the heart of what the Advent is about–anticipation
What is Advent?
The word “advent” is derived from the latin adventus, and it simply means coming.
The advent season was not one originally associated with Christmas however. Scholars believe the earliest observances of advent were for a season of preparation before the baptism of new Christians. By the 6th century, it was a season observed primarily in light of Christ’s second coming, not his first. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that advent was specifically associated with Christmas.
Advent today continues to be tied to the Christmas season. The Advent season itself starts four Sundays before Christmas and can fall as soon as November 27th and as late as December 3rd. This year, Advent will start on Sunday, December 3rd.
The Advent season today is intended to cause us to look forward to Christ’s second coming, and also backward at his first coming. During the first two Sundays of Advent, we look forward to his Second coming, while the last two Sundays before Christmas we look back to and remember his first coming.
The whole season is intended to be one of reflection, remembrance, confession, and repentance. In many ways, Advent is intended to be observed similarly to Lent.
The Themes Of Advent
There are numerous themes one can find attached to the Advent season today. Traditionally, the themes of love, joy, peace, and hope are the most common themes. But I’ve also observed the Advent season with the themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. (These themes are found in an Advent devotional with the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
In some Advent traditions, candles and wreaths are used to represent various components of the Advent observance. The wreath is intended to symbolize the eternal nature of God, while the candles represent a myriad of different things depending on the historical tradition you’re reading.
Why you should consider observing Advent.
There’s a lot of differentiation with the Advent season, and different traditions observe it in their unique ways.
There are numerous ways you and your family can celebrate the Advent season. There are no hard and fast rules. You may even choose not to observe Advent. However, there is indeed great value in doing something to observe Advent–both in your home and in the local church.
The Christmas season in our culture is dominated by anything but stillness and meditation. Many of us dread this season because of the madness that comes along with it. Put simply, it’s easy for us to miss the point–the coming of Christ. Intentionally observing Advent, in whatever way you may choose to do so, may just be the thing that helps you, your family, and your church to slow down enough to see and treasure Jesus above anything else. And that is a good gift.
If you’ve never observed the full Advent season, I encourage you to do so this year. It’ll be awkward and perhaps difficult. But the reward will be great as you set your heart on the humble coming of Jesus thousands of years ago, as well as his future coming in power and glory.
Simply put, the reason we should observe Advent is that it helps to fix our attention where it ought to be fixed–on the Savior of the world.
In my next post, I’m going to share some of the things my family has done and what we’re hoping to do this year.