Advent, the name of the first season of the church year, comes from the Latin word “adventus,” a word that refers to the “coming” of the Messiah, the Christ, first at his birth in Bethlehem and last to his anticipated Second Coming at the Great Day of the Lord.
With Advent, we begin again the cycle of seasons of the church year that helps the Christian community to remember the life of Christ, form a life of discipleship centered around him, and enter into the promises of God for us in our future.
The observance of the Advent season can first be traced to the latter half of the 6thcentury. The season arose as a parallel to the season of Lent—the time of preparation and repentance prior to baptism at the Easter feast. Just as Easter had a season of preparation, the early church must have reckoned, so should Christmas. Advent, then, was first observed as a penitential season in which festivities were discouraged, but with less strictness than with Lent.
Today the celebration of Advent has been overshadowed by the secular celebrations of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to the point that Advent is all but forgotten. The tradition of the Advent wreath still endures in our church liturgies, but its observance sadly is in decline in the homes of Christian families throughout our nation. The same is true for Advent Calendars. Because Christmas in our culture has become so commercial and has been celebrated to such excess, we have all but lost sight of how earlier Christians prepared for the Christmas season through prayer, meditation, and fasting.
Advent is a time set aside by the church to prepare ourselves to greet the Lord at the day of his coming through self-examination, penitence, and prayer. The first half of the fifth verse of the Christmas Carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” expresses the purpose of our Advent preparations.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
To observe Advent in our world today is counter-cultural. Although the world around us is hustling madly to prepare for Christmas, Advent offers a time to take a deep breath and to slow down. It is a time for self-examination and prayer — a time to think about how we are living as a disciple of Christ and to examine anew how we respond to God’s call to us. Advent observed properly is a season of both renewal and hope.
In the booklet, for which you will find a link below, you will find a short Advent service that you can use as a private devotion or as a service with family and friends around your Advent wreath. You might even use it along with your blessing at dinner. You also will find activities for all ages.
May you have a blessed Advent season in preparation for the coming of our Lord this Christmastide.