December 10, 2018
In the Western Christian Church, the annual observance of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. It’s much more than a countdown to Christmas; it is a time of hopeful expectation and reflection on our need for a Savior, who first came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b NIV) and will come again “to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
But why is it called Advent? What are the origins of that name and why does it matter today?
Advent: coming toward
The modern definition of advent is “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” We generally use it to signify either an origin or beginning of a major event or a new era―the advent of the Civil War or the advent of modern capitalism. We might also apply it to the onset of a regular occurrence―the advent of winter. The word “advent” descends from the Latin “adventus” and means arrival or approach, a coming toward. Our modern understanding of advent probably gets much of its portent from centuries of ecclesiastical use to mark the first appearance of the Messiah and the hope of his promised return.
Interestingly, Christians of the early Church regarded Advent as a time of preparation for the baptism of new believers on the day of Epiphany (January 6). They did not associate Advent closely with the birth of Jesus. Even after the 3rd century, when December 25 had become widely accepted as the date for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ had not yet become as important as it would much later. By the 7th century, Roman Christians had begun to associate Advent with Christ’s appearing...but to his second coming, not so much his first. It was around the 9th century, as formal liturgies for Christmas emerged in the Church, that Advent evolved into a season of preparation to both celebrate the birth of Christ and anticipate his hoped-for return.
Advent is a time to “come toward” God
Today, we often get caught up in the secular aspects of Christmas—the shopping, decorating, parties and other festivities. Observing Advent can really help us get above all that and focus our celebration on the coming of God’s Son. We do this by coming close to him. James 4:8a tells us that if we come near to God, he will come near to us. Many Christians find drawing near to God enriches all other aspects of the Christmas celebration—fellowship, gift giving, gift receiving...even shopping. Four weeks of focus on Jesus helps put everything else in its right place.
To learn more about Advent, check out “What is Advent?”
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