Advent – What and Why

Advent, meaning “coming,” marks the beginning of the church calendar, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ending on Christmas Day.  It is a penitential season of waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.  Advent has a twofold character.  The season is a patient time of preparing ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  It is also a time of waiting for the second coming of Christ or parousia (Greek for presence or arrival).  Advent is a period for both devout preparation and joyful expectation.

The first clear reference to a celebration of Advent occurs in the 6th century.  During the Reformation, some Protestants attacked or de-emphasized many Christian holy days and seasons, disconnecting their churches from the rhythms of the church year.  However, some Reformation churches, like the Anglicans, retained Advent.  This was a response to the adoption of Advent into secular living.  Today things have changed.  Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even many evangelical groups have incorporated Advent back into their worship service to varying degrees.

A great example is the lighting of the Advent wreath, the practice people most closely associate with the season.  Christians have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to symbolize Christ, the light of the world.  The wreath is made of evergreens in the shape of a circle to represent eternal life.

The wreath contains five candles, with one candle being lit each week.  The first is the Prophecy Candle, reminding us of God’s promise to send a Messiah.  The second is the Bethlehem Candle, which is symbolic of the Christ Child’s cradle and our preparations to receive him.  The third is the Shepherd’s Candle, symbolizing the joy of finding the Christ Child and sharing this joy with others.  The fourth is the Angels’ Candle, which represents love and the final coming of Jesus.  The fifth is placed at the center as the Christ Candle and is lit on Christmas Eve.  This represents the light of Christ that has come into the world and is white to represent purity.

The colors of Advent also hold a rich meaning.  Blue or purple are the colors used during this season, with blue being the more recent choice.  Blue reminds us of heaven, the expectation that Jesus will come again, and the hope this season brings.  Purple represents the royalty of the coming King.  The next time you see the purple you can remember your King who came to bring us life and blue will remind you that he will come again.

Some scripture passages anticipating the arrival of God are:  Isaiah 2:1-5, Jerimiah 33:14-16, Zephaniah 3:14-18, Matthew 24:37-44, and Romans 13:11-14.