What Is Advent?

Chris Martin
header for What Is Advent?

Christmastime is upon us, and if you’re new to Christianity or perhaps participate in Christian worship that doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on the liturgical year, you may be wondering:

What Is Advent?

Advent is a period on the Christian liturgical calendar during which Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus in anticipation of Christmas Day, when Christians celebrate His birth.

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is sometime between November 27 and December 3, and it culminates on Christmas Eve, which is often commemorated during a church’s Christmas Eve service.

How Do We Celebrate Advent?

In their book Hosanna in Excelsis, David and Barbara Leeman share some ways that Christians may celebrate Advent. They write:

The practice of observing the church year is not known by all Christians. The terms Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter are not in the Bible. But Christians began following the Church Year—also called the Christian Year— perhaps as far back as the fifth century. The practice is a way to regularly focus our hearts on aspects of God’s story, specifically in the life of Jesus Christ.

The Church Year begins with Advent, a word from a version of the Latin word that means “coming.” Of course, what is coming is our celebration of the birth date of Jesus. Just as any home and family that is expecting a newborn will prepare for the birth, so Christians prepare for Christmas. Israel spent thousands of years in perpetual Advent, waiting for the promised Messiah. But now He has come!

How do we today prepare during the season of Advent? Some people keep Advent calendars for daily thoughts or activities. Others use Advent wreaths with four to five candles. A single candle is lit each Sunday of Advent until Christmas Eve, when a center candle may be lit.

While the season of Advent prepares us for December 25, it does more than that. It helps us to anticipate Christ’s future return—His second coming. We might even say there are four kinds of Advent: the historical time preceding Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; the Advent days of this year and this year’s celebration; remembering the period of our personal lives before we came to know Jesus personally as Savior and Lord; and the “Second Advent” that we are in now, awaiting Christ’s return to rule this earth.

One writer wisely observed: “One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along. That while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home.”[1]

So if Christ has already come and “we are with God all along,” why should we celebrate a season of Advent? We prepare to once again celebrate His birthday while understanding He continually comes to us who are His children. His first coming is the foundation of our faith. While “we are already home,” His promise to come again and take us to our eternal home is the source of our hope.

Advent Is About Anticipation

However you and your church observe Advent, whether with fun family traditions, reverent church services, or somewhere in between, the four weeks leading up to Christmas ought to serve as a time for Christians to celebrate, remember, and anticipate. We celebrate the first coming of Christ as a child in a manger. We remember the perfect life He lived and the sacrifice He made so that we might be in fellowship with God. And we anticipate His second coming. By observing Advent as a time of anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s first coming we can also look forward to his second coming.

What if we anticipated the return of Jesus as much as we anticipate the thrill of Christmas morning?

May God bless you this Christmas season. And may Jesus be at the fore of your celebrations.

[1] Michelle Blake, The Tentmaker (New York: Penguin, 2000), 155.

For Further Reading:

Hosanna in Excelsis

by David and Barbara Leeman

Enrich Your Christmas with the Sounds of the Season Music has always been central to celebrating the coming of Christ into the world....

book cover for Hosanna in Excelsis