What Is Advent?
For many Christians, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. Some may know that the Advent season focuses on our and anticipation leading up to the birth of Jesus on Christmas. This is only part of the story.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” During the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul (today’s France), Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany - the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1).
By the 6th century, however, Christians had tied Advent to the second coming of Jesus as judge of the world.
Today, Advent includes four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd. The Christian church is waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. The church today looks back upon Christ’s birth while looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns. The Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” captures the church’s message 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.
While Israel would have sung a song in expectation of the Messiah’s coming, the church sings the song in commemoration of that first coming, and, in expectation of his second coming
The first two Sundays in Advent look forward to Jesus’ second coming, while the last two Sundays look backward to remember Jesus’ first coming. Over the course of the four weeks, Scripture readings move from passages about Christ’s return in judgment, to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah, to New Testament passages about the announcements of Christ’s arrival by John the Baptist and the Angels.
While it is difficult to remain focused in the midst of holiday celebrations, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting and reflection, much like Lent. Reflection, inviting us to cry out to God —to put death’s dark shadows to flight.
While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Jesus’ birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and, it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. We live between the fulfilled promise of Jesus’ first coming and the yet- to-occur-promise of his second coming. By faith, we know for whom and for what awaits. Through faith, we lay hold of God’s fulfilled promises. The promise of the Messiah for Israel, and, the promise for the Christian church - Jesus
Christ; he has come, and he will come again.