What Is Advent About Today?
Dec 6, 2019 · Christopher Hunt
The closest my family came to observing Advent, one year when I was a kid, was to have one of those printed cardboard Advent calendars shaped like the classic “Night Before Christmas” house. It had little pull-out tabs for each day that revealed a square of chocolate each day leading up to Christmas Eve. This feature produced quite a bit of drama when one of my brothers decided to pull several tabs more than his share a few days before Christmas. This may be my strongest Advent memory!
Even though ours was a Christian home, Advent represented little more than a countdown to Christmas to us; and for us kids, a countdown to opening presents. Even though Christmas was for us first and foremost about Jesus’ birth, Advent was not part of our family’s annual rhythm. Perhaps you can relate.
What is Advent? And why do we observe Advent?
Advent commemorates Christ’s coming and anticipates His return
The word “advent” comes to us from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visiting.” Early Christians viewed Advent as a time of preparation for the baptism of new believers on the day of Epiphany (January 6). They did not associate it with the birth of Christ just yet. By the 7th century, Roman Christians were tying Advent to Christ’s appearing, but to his second coming, not so much his first. It was in the Middle Ages that Advent evolved into a season of preparation to both celebrate his birth and anticipate his hoped-for return.
Waiting is the predominant theme of Advent
Nowadays, Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Western Christian Church, and it’s more than a countdown to Christmas. It starts four Sundays before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. In this time, we wait in hopeful expectation, as we reflect on our need for the one who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b NIV). Expectant waiting is the main theme of Advent and each week focuses on a different posture of anticipation.
We wait in hope: Not the mere fervent wishing of our modern understanding of hope, but hope that is based in assured faith. “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
We wait in peace: Wholly surrendered and no longer apart from God; the peace the angels were referring to when they sang, “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14b).
We wait in joy: In Christ, God the Father fulfills his promise to reconcile his people to himself (Romans 5:6-11); just as baby John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb, so also do our spirits leap for joy (Luke 1).
We wait in love: In the love of our Heavenly Father, who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
During Advent we draw near to God
So, why do we observe Advent? Above everything else, Advent gives us a time to draw near to God. In their day-to-day lives, most of us Christians alternately approach and retreat from God. We see this in the ebb and flow of our prayer life, Bible reading, and doing good works as God’s Spirit leads. James 8:4a promises that if we come near to God, he will come near to us. A season set aside to prepare for the celebration of the coming of God’s son is a meaningful time to draw near to Him.
Advent bridges the sacred and the secular of Christmas
We get so easily caught up in the secular aspects of Christmas—the shopping, decorating, parties and other festivities. Advent helps us bridge the age-old gap between the sacred and the secular of the Christmas season to put anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ first. We find drawing close to God enriches all other aspects of our Christmas celebrations—fellowship, gift giving, gift receiving. Four weeks of focusing on Jesus can help to put everything else in its proper light, even shopping.