What is Advent?
Advent is the season of the year leading up to Christmas. The word “Advent” itself means “arrival” or “an appearing or coming into place.” Christians often speak of Christ’s “first Advent” and “second Advent”, that is, his first and second comings to Earth. His first Advent would be the incarnation – Christmas time
The Advent season lasts for 4 Sundays. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, or the nearest Sunday 2 November 30. Advent ends on Christmas Eve and thus is not considered part of the Christmas season. The Advent celebration is both a commemoration of Christ’s first coming and an anticipation of his second coming. As Israel longed for their Messiah to come, so Christians long for their Savior to come again. Advent is seen as a time to prepare one’s heart for Christmas and for the ever shall return of Christ (and the judgement He will bring to the world).
Churches that observe Advent usually decorate their sanctuaries the liturgical colour of Advent, royal blue or purple. Some churches change the colour to rose on the 3rd Sunday of Advent to signify a greater emphasis on the joy of the season.
One of the most common Advent traditions involves the use of evergreen wreaths, branches, and trees. On the first Sunday of Advent, churches and homes are decorated with green to symbolise the eternal life that Jesus brings. An Advent wreath – an evergreen circle with 4 coloured candles surrounding a white one in the middle – is placed in a prominent spot. The candles are then lit one at a time, on successive Sundays. The first candle is the candle of “open” or “expectation.” The 3 remaining candles, “peace, joy, love”. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the central white candle is lit, this is the “Christ candle,” a reminder that Jesus, the light of the world, has come.
Advent calendars, used to count down the days to Christmas, are popular in many homes. And Advent calendar contains a number of covered “windows” that are opened, one a day, until Christmas Day. Each open window reveals a picture related to the season or a poem or a Bible verse or a treat of some kind. Many parents find an Advent calendar is a good way to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas – although there are secular versions of the calendars too.
Should Christians observe advent? There there is certainly nothing wrong with commemorating Jesus birth and anticipating his return – such commemoration and anticipation should be an everyday part of our lives. Are Christians required to observe Advent? No. Does observing Advent make one a better Christian or more acceptable to God? No. Can celebrating Advent be a good reminder of what the season is truly all about? Yes, and therein lies its greatest value.