What Is Advent?
Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.
Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ's first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spirit, and in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.
The word "advent" comes from the Latin "adventus" meaning "arrival" or "coming," particularly of something having great importance.
For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year.
In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent.
For Eastern Orthodox churches which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days rather than four weeks. Advent is also known as the Nativity Fast in Orthodox Christianity.
Advent is primarily observed in Christian churches that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials, fasts and holy days.
According to some resources Advent began sometime after the 4th century as a time of preparation for Epiphany, and not in anticipation of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ by remembering the visit of the wise men and, in some traditions, the Baptism of Jesus. At this time new Christians were baptized and received into the faith, and so the early church instituted a 40-day period of fasting and repentance.
Later, in the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great was the first to associate this season of Advent with the coming of Christ. Originally it was not the coming of the Christ-child that was anticipated, but rather, the Second Coming of Christ.
By the Middle Ages, the church had extended the celebration of Advent to include the coming of Christ through his birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit. Modern-day Advent services include symbolic customs related to all three of these "advents" of Christ.
Many different variations and interpretations of Advent customs exist today, depending upon the denomination and the type of service being observed. The following symbols and customs provide a general overview only, and do not represent an exhaustive resource for all Christian traditions.
The advent wreath became quite popular in homes in post-Reformation Germany. In many German homes families still have a custom of lighting four candles during advent, candles placed in a wreath of evergreens. When these candles were lit, Scripture and prayer was part of the custom and the family devotion time was a time of instructing the children about Christ's coming. Later, the custom crossed over different denominational lines and other faith traditions adapted its use.
Christuskirche uses an Advent wreath as part of our Advent and Christmas worship services. Join us as we prepare our hearts with Hope, Joy and Love as we eagerly look forward to Christmas–the celebration of the birth our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the first candle is lit. This candle is typically called the "Prophecy Candle" in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah. Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit.
On the second Sunday of Advent, the second candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolizing Christ's manger.
On the third Sunday of Advent the third candle is lit. This candle is customarily called the "Shepherds Candle" and it represents joy.
The fourth and last candle, oftentimes called the "Angels Candle," represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
In some traditions on Christmas Eve, a white center candle is lit. This candle is called the "Christ Candle" and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins.
Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.