The History and Meaning of Advent
Advent is a season observed by many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming” or “arrival.”
The observance of Advent dates back to the 4th century in Spain and Gaul, and it gradually spread throughout the Christian world. Originally, Advent was a period of fasting, similar to Lent, but it was later adapted to be a time of spiritual reflection and anticipation.
Advent is typically observed during the four weeks leading up to Christmas, starting on the Sunday closest to November 30th. The season is marked by the use of Advent wreaths, which consist of a circular wreath with four candles, one for each week of Advent. The candles are lit progressively, with one additional candle lit each week, until all four are lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The themes of Advent are hope, peace, joy, and love, represented by the four candles of the Advent wreath. These themes are reflected in the Scripture readings and prayers used during Advent, which focus on the prophetic promises of the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate triumph of God’s Kingdom. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ, not only as a historical event but also as a daily reality in our lives.
The Date of Advent’s Start
The start of Advent varies from year to year, as it is determined by the date of Christmas, which is fixed on December 25th. Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to November 30th and lasts for four weeks.
For example, if December 25th falls on a Sunday, then the first Sunday of Advent is on November 27th. If December 25th falls on a Monday, then the first Sunday of Advent is on December 3rd.
The exact date of Advent’s start can also depend on the liturgical calendar used by the specific Christian denomination. For example, the Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar, which means that Christmas falls on January 7th instead of December 25th. Therefore, the start of Advent for the Eastern Orthodox Church is typically in late November or early December, depending on the year.
It’s important to note that Advent is not just a countdown to Christmas Day, but rather a time of spiritual reflection and preparation for the coming of Christ. By observing the season of Advent, Christians are reminded to slow down, reflect on their lives, and prepare their hearts and minds for the coming of Christ.
Differences in Advent Start Dates among Christian Denominations
While Advent is generally observed by many Christian denominations, there can be differences in the start date and length of the season among different branches of Christianity.
For example, the Western Christian tradition, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches, typically observe Advent for four weeks, starting on the Sunday closest to November 30th. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Eastern Catholic churches observe Advent for 40 days, starting on November 15th and leading up to Christmas on January 7th.
In addition, some Protestant denominations may choose to observe Advent for a shorter or longer period of time, or use different traditions and practices during the season.
Despite these differences, the common thread among all Christian denominations is the focus on spiritual preparation and anticipation for the coming of Christ. Advent serves as a reminder to Christians of the hope and joy that comes with the birth of Jesus, and the promise of his return.
Advent Traditions and Celebrations
Advent is a time of spiritual reflection and preparation, and there are many traditions and practices associated with the season. One of the most well-known Advent traditions is the use of an Advent wreath.
The Advent wreath is typically a circular wreath made of evergreen branches, with four candles (three purple and one pink) placed in a circle around the wreath. The candles represent the four weeks of Advent and the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, and an additional candle is lit each subsequent Sunday until all four candles are lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Other popular Advent traditions include the use of Advent calendars, which contain a small treat or gift for each day of Advent leading up to Christmas, and the display of Nativity scenes or Christmas decorations in homes and churches.
In some Christian denominations, there are special Advent services or liturgies that take place during the season, including the singing of Advent hymns and the reading of Scripture passages related to the themes of Advent.
Overall, Advent traditions and celebrations serve as a way to help Christians focus on the spiritual meaning of the season and prepare their hearts and minds for the coming of Christ.
How to Prepare for Advent
Preparing for Advent can be a meaningful way to get into the spirit of the season and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Here are some ideas for how to prepare for Advent:
Set aside time for reflection and prayer. Advent is a time for spiritual preparation, so it’s important to carve out time in your schedule for reflection and prayer. Consider setting aside a few minutes each day to read Scripture or spend time in quiet reflection.
Use an Advent devotional or prayer book. Many Christian publishers release devotional books or prayer guides specifically for the Advent season. These resources can be a helpful way to focus your spiritual reflection and prepare for Christmas.
Participate in Advent traditions. Consider lighting an Advent wreath, using an Advent calendar, or displaying Christmas decorations in your home or church. These traditions can serve as a visual reminder of the spiritual meaning of the season.
Practice generosity and service. Advent is a time to focus on giving and serving others, just as Christ gave of himself for us. Consider volunteering at a local charity or participating in a giving campaign during the season.
Attend Advent services or events. Many churches and Christian organizations offer special services or events during the Advent season. Consider attending a Christmas concert or participating in a special worship service to help prepare your heart and mind for the coming of Christ.
By preparing for Advent in these ways, you can make the most of the season and focus on the true meaning of Christmas.