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What is Advent?

What is Advent? If you do not come from a denominational background that celebrates Advent during the Christmas season you may wonder what it’s all about. You may even wonder why a Christian should participate in it at all. Here I will explain a short history, background, and reasons why this may be a good idea for you and your family to consider during this Christmas season.

The History of Advent

Advent is from the Latin word Adventus which comes from parousia, the transliteration of the Greek word which means “presence” or “coming.”[1] This refers to the arrival or advent of Christ. It is celebrated mostly in the Western Church and finds its earliest roots seated in the 5th century.

How is Advent Celebrated?

The Advent celebration occurs during the four Sunday’s that precede Christmas. An advent service involves lighting one of four candles (many times a fifth candle in the center is known as the Christmas candle) in a wreath each Sunday. After the lighting of the candle, there is a song, scripture reading, and devotion. It is a reflection on the coming of the Messiah and an expectation of His return.

Each church and family that celebrates Advent may do it differently. However, to help you understand what celebrating Advent looks like, I will share how our family has observed this holiday for many years.

A Pattern to Follow for Advent

The first Sunday of Advent’s candle is called Anticipation. We follow the lighting of this Sunday’s candle with devotional time looking at the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets that longed for the day the Messiah would come. We begin this week with a reading of Malachi 3:1. Others may choose Isaiah 9:2-6. Songs that we sing may include “Come, thou long-expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The second Sunday is called Annunciation. This Sunday we focus on the announcement of Christ arrival. A scripture reading may include Luke 1:26-35. Good songs to sing are “Angles We Have Heard on High” and “Angles, From the Realms of Glory.”

The third Sunday of Advent is called Affirmation. The third candle represents the affirmation of God’s promise of the Messiah. Scripture reading includes Isaiah 62:10-12 and songs like “Joy to the World” and “O Come. All Ye Faithful” will follow.

The fourth Sunday we call Arrival. We light the fourth candle in celebration of the arrival of the promised Savior who came to save His people from their sins. We reflect on Luke 2:1-7 and sing “The First Noel.”

Lastly is Christmas Eve, whose candle we call Appreciation. The Christmas candle is lit in appreciation and thanksgiving over God’s demonstration of love, by sending Jesus Christ to be our sacrifice for sins. This day we read Luke 2:1-20.

Why Should Advent Matter to Me?

The pattern of observing Advent may differ in each home. But what remains the same is a turning of our minds to Christ and His first coming. This celebration, if done rightly, is more than a tradition, it is a time of fellowship, praise, and meditation on the fulfilled promises of God. Christmas can be a time of hurried preparation, or it can be a time of more profound reflection on God, a period of teaching children the meaning of Christ’s first advent, and a time of anticipation of His Second Coming. A celebration of Advent can help you in this goal by expressly focusing you and your family into meaningful discussion, devotion, and prayer this Christmas. Time is fleeting…take command and redeems it for a godly purpose.

[1] Chad Brand et al., eds., “Parousia,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1249.