Adventus. In Latin, this word sums up the entire Advent Season. The word’s meaning, “coming,” is the anticipatory practice for most western Christians in terms of both the coming of Christ into the world and the eventual coming of His kingdom to this Earth.
Taking place on the Sunday between November 27th and December 3rd, Advent Season today last for four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is the beginning of the Liturgical Calendar for Christians.
During Advent, we are to prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.
Before we get into what is done during the Advent Season, here is a very quick history of Advent. Here we go!
Some scholars put the original practice as early as the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul and was actually a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians! The celebrations were represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and his first miracle at Cana. During the aforementioned season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration. So really, originally, there was very little connection between Advent and Christmas back then.
Some have even said it goes back to the time of the Twelve Apostles. Some have said that it was founded by Saint Peter himself. Good on you bro! This has caused some confusion…obviously….and has led to the conclusion that it is impossible to claim with any bit of confidence as to the true origin of Advent. All we know at this point is that it’s freaking awesome.
So, what do we do in Advent? How is Advent different than Christmas? Is it a Hipster thing that is happening so everyone can be cool?
Lots of cool things. A little bit. And no. Stop it. It’s been around for a while.
Let’s get into it!
In 2016 the four Advent Sundays are November 27, December 4, December 11, and December 18. While it is difficult to keep in mind in the midst of holiday celebrations, lights and decorations, joyful carols, and joyful adults trampling each other for a 70″ TV for 50% off, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting, much like Lent. One catechism describes Advent spirituality beautifully:
“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.”
What’s with the Advent colors? Is it purple or blue?
Glad you asked. It’s both. Some say “GO PURPLE!” some say, “GO BLUE!” They say that Blue represents Hope and Purple represents solemnity and somberness. Choose a side and you’ll be right. There you go.
I have to get a Wreath?
Yep. Haha, well, you don’t have to, but it’s a thing. Advent Wreaths are also a common practice in homes or churches. While the actual origins of the Advent wreath are uncertain, it is known that pre-Christian Germanic peoples used a wreath with candles as a sign of hope that the dark days of winter would not last forever…very relevant for Canadian or Chicagoan Christians. The Wreath will have four candles representing Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, with a fifth candle, often called The Christ Candle, lit on Christmas Eve. The candles are in conjunction to the four Sundays with readings for each week.
1st Sunday: Readings relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first advent candle The Prophecy Candle, or Hope. (purple)
2nd Sunday: Readings relate to Christ’s Birth in a manger and other prophesies, so the candle may be called The Bethlehem Candle, or Love. (purple)
3rd Sunday: Readings relate to the long line of people who joyfully shared the good news of the Savior’s birth, so the candle may be called The Shepards Candle, or Joy. (pink)
4th Sunday: Readings relate to the annunciation of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as The Angel Candle, or Peace (purple)
The Magnificat or Song of Mary may be featured, and in that case, a 5th candle is introduced and as stated before it is called The Christ Candle (white) and is lit on Christmas Eve.
So do we fast during Advent?
No. That has been…relaxed these days. Some Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before Christmas, but other denominations of Christianity do not. And you should be happy, back then, in addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions.
Some other traditions of Advent include:
- Getting a Jesse Tree-like the wreath, but…more. Particular prayers and activities
- Advent Reflections-readings and reflections on each part of the season
- Book of Advent Reflections-to help you focus and record your journey through the season
- Advent Calendars-for each of the days, find something cool!
- Thinking of Others-commit to help someone else this holiday who needs it
- Going to Confession
Advent is a beautiful and ancient practice that forces us to look back and look forward in the same motion. The life given in the birth of our Savior and the life given to us in His second coming gives us hope. Between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming, it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.
I hope that this has helped you in understanding The Advent Season. May you find that by participating in Advent, you find that the miracle of Christmas can be more fully understood and appreciated in the shadow of Advent. God Bless.