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What is Advent and Why Does it Matter to Christians?

What is Advent Faith Forward Christian basics

The Christmas holiday season is upon us once again. For those who celebrate, it means spending time with family and friends, exchanging gifts, decorating homes, and enjoying delicious food. But there’s much more to it than that! The period leading up to Christmas is known as Advent – but what is Advent, and why should you care?

Advent is a Christian tradition that begins at the beginning of December (or sometimes at the end of November) each year. It marks the four Sundays before Christmas Day and is celebrated by Christians all around the world. The first Sunday of Advent usually falls between the 27th of November and the 3rd of December.

Advent Dates for 2022

This year, the first Sunday of Advent is on Sunday, 27th November, and Advent ends on Saturday, 24th December 2022.

But What IS Advent, Exactly?

Most of us who have grown up in the Western world will be familiar with Advent calendars. You might have had a shop-bought calendar with a tiny chocolate shape behind each window. Or perhaps a homemade calendar with boxes filled with a small gift for each day. Advent calendars have become a part of the holiday season that have somehow become detached from the original meaning of Advent. So what exactly is Advent if it’s not about calendars counting down the days to Christmas?

We celebrate Advent as a commemora­tion of Christ’s first coming as well as an anticipation of his second coming. The four weeks of Advent are meant to be a time when we think about what Jesus did for us – what he gave up and how He suffered to save us.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a human baby, it signified that finally, the Savior of the world had arrived. The Son of God had taken on the form of a flesh-and-blood baby who would grow up to save us by dying on the cross for our sins. This is how the apostle Paul explains it:

…though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:6-8

On the night that Jesus was born, God began His plan to save the world by sending His Son into the world. When Jesus returns (the second coming), He will defeat evil, death, and Satan forever.

History & Meaning

You might be aware that the Advent season focuses primarily on expectation and anticipates the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas time. However, there’s more to Advent than just that.

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” This, in turn, can be translated into the Greek word parousia, which describes the second coming of Jesus.

Some biblical scholars have concluded that in the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany. Throughout the time of preparation, Christians would be expected to spend 40 days engaged in prayer, penance, and fasting to prepare for this celebration. In the early days of Christianity, there wasn’t much of a connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the sixth century, Christians had tied Advent to the arrival of Jesus. But the “arrival” they were referring to was not Jesus’ first arrival in the manger in the stable in Bethlehem, but his return in the form of the Judge of the World. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Advent became specifically associated with Jesus’ first appearance in the manger.

What Happens During the Advent Season?

Because Advent is focused on both remembrance and anticipation, Advent is split into two sections. The first two Sundays of Advent are meant to look forward (i.e., to Jesus’ second coming). The second two Sundays of Advent look back in remembrance (i.e., to Jesus’ first coming as a baby over 2000 years ago.)

In traditional church liturgy (which varies depending on the denomination – some denominations don’t have a formal liturgy), there are Scripture readings selected for each week of Advent. Generally, these Scripture readings start with passages concerning Christ’s return in judgment and then move on to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah. New Testament passages, such as the announcements of Christ’s arrival by John the Baptist and the Angels, are also included.

It surprised me to learn that Advent is actually meant to be a season of fasting (like Lent is in the run-up to Easter.) I grew up in a Christian family, but we never fasted during Advent. In the busyness of life in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when secular life is all about shopping, food, lights, and decorations, the idea of fasting seems incongruous.

I’ll be honest, I’m not likely to find time to fast during Advent, but I will be making time to reflect more on the themes connected to Advent. Being intentional in prayer can be tough sometimes, but making time for God is something that should be a priority, especially during the Advent season.

One catechism describes Advent spirituality like this:

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Paragraph 524)

What is Advent? Candles and Wreaths

The lighting of candles during Advent has become a popular part of the celebration. There are various different approaches to using an Advent wreath and candles, but the most common tradition uses four candles. One advent candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

Other variations of the Advent candle tradition include:

  • lighting a candle on each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas
  • placing one large candle in the center of an Advent wreath and lighting it every day of December until Christmas
  • lighting the traditional four candles of Advent on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas day, and adding a fifth candle (usually white) on Christmas day to represent Jesus’ birth

The colors of the candles lit during Advent can vary, but usually, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple, while the third is rose-colored or red. Each of the four candles is meant to symbolize a specific aspect of the remembrance and anticipation associated with Advent.

What are the 4 meanings of Advent?

  • First Candle of Advent: This candle symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets who prophesied the birth of Christ. It signifies the expectation of the coming of the Messiah.
  • Second Candle of Advent: This candle symbolizes faith. It’s known as the “Bethlehem Candle” and symbolizes Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
  • Third Candle of Advent: This candle represents joy. It’s also known as the “Shepherd’s Candle.” It is meant to remind us of the world’s joy at the birth of Jesus.
  • Fourth Candle of Advent: This candle marks the last week of Advent. It’s often referred to as the “Angel’s Candle,” and it represents peace. When lighting this candle, think about the angels’ message: “Peace on Earth, good will to men.” (Luke 2:14).

Advent Readings

As I mentioned earlier, there are themed Scripture readings for each Sunday of Advent. There’s a different theme for each week. These are linked to the themes associated with the advent candles. The first week’s theme is usually hope or promise, the second week’s theme is about faith, the third week is about joy, and the final week concerns having peace.

What is Advent Bible Verse

Bible Readings for Advent 2022

These readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary

DateFirst ReadingPsalmSecond ReadingGospel
First Sunday of AdventNov 27, 22Isaiah 2:1-5Psalm 122Romans 13:11-14Matthew 24:36-44
Second Sunday of AdventDec 4, 22Isaiah 11:1-10Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19Romans 15:4-13Matthew 3:1-12
Third Sunday of AdventDec 11, 22Isaiah 35:1-10Psalm 146:5-10James 5:7-10Matthew 11:2-11
Fourth Sunday of AdventDec 18, 22Isaiah 7:10-16Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25

Prayer DURING Advent

Through praying, we can pray for God to prepare our hearts, so they’re ready when Jesus comes again. During Advent, we can pray for the Father to remove any obstacles that might prevent us from receiving his gifts.

Advent Prayer

Lord, you know that sometimes life gets so busy that I struggle to find time for you. I’m sorry for that, and I’m resolving this Advent season to draw closer to you. Even when life throws me a curveball, your presence is always with me (even when I can’t feel it, I know that You will never leave nor forsake me!)

I believe in your promise to provide all I need. I’m thankful that seeking you doesn’t require me to be perfect or have a life free from troubles. I know that you encourage me to come to You broken but with a heart full of devotion and obedience. No matter how many Advent seasons pass by, Lord, your promises stay the same. Each tear that I shed has a purpose. Each difficult phase of my life has a divine reason. I’m so grateful that in your capable hands, each moment of trouble is transformed by the power of your grace.

This Advent, help me to walk closer with you and feel your joy, peace, and patience. Thank you, Father, for the gift of Jesus. Forgive me for the times when I have strayed far from you or taken your grace for granted. Thank you that you promise peace when I’m gripped by anxiety, rest when I am weary, and victory over the battles that scar the battleground of my mind. I celebrate you as Lord of my life today, throughout Advent, and every day of the year to come!

Will You Be Celebrating Advent this Year?

As I’m writing this post, Advent is less than a week away. This year, it falls on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, right in the middle of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. I’ve resolved to shut off my devices and log out of social media for the first Sunday of Advent. Will you be making time for God this Advent season?

Quick Summary: What is Advent?

What is Advent is a question that I get asked a lot in my ministry. It’s one of those questions that shows how many of the Christian traditions have fallen out of common practice. Even in some churches, people are left confused about the question of what is Advent, with pastors and priests somehow failing to convey the meaning of Advent.

The TL;DR of what is Advent is this:

Advent is the period leading up to Christmas, covering four Sundays, with each Sunday representing a different theme. The purpose of Advent is to reflect on the first and second coming of Jesus, looking back with thankfulness for what Jesus accomplished for us, and looking forward with hope to the second coming, when Jesus will crush death and Satan once and for all.

How long is Advent?

The exact length of Advent can vary from year to year – it all depends on which day of the week Christmas day falls on. In 2022, Christmas day falls on a Sunday, so Advent starts early this year, on 27th November 2022. This means that in 2022 Advent lasts almost five weeks, from the 27th November to the 24th December.

What does it say about Advent in the Bible?

Advent isn’t actually mentioned in the Bible. The tradition of celebrating Advent is something that evolved over time as part of Christian practices. You won’t find any specific description of it in the Bible – much like you won’t find the word Christmas or Easter.

What is Advent Sunday?

There are actually four Advent Sundays during the season of Advent. Each Sunday focuses on a different theme. The first Sunday is about hope, the second is about faith, the third is about joy, and the fourth is about peace.

What is Advent to Christians?

Not all Christians will actually celebrate Advent. If you ask different Christians, what is advent, you may get different answers. I grew up Christian but didn’t understand what Advent really meant until I was in my thirties because it wasn’t something that my family really celebrated. For other denominations, Advent is an important part of the liturgical year.

Should Christians celebrate Advent?

Not celebrating Advent doesn’t make you a bad Christian! I do think that taking time to reflect on the first and second coming of Jesus Christ is important. You may not be able to do the whole Advent wreath and candles part, but focusing your prayers and Bible reading on Advent themes is just as valid a way to celebrate Advent.

What is Advent calendar to do with the season of Advent?

I’m not sure when and where the Advent calendar tradition started, but I suspect that the tradition was more closely associated with the Christian faith than it is now. Today, Christians and non-Christians alike have Advent calendars and the actual meaning of Advent (the coming of Christ) has been virtually removed from the practice. Much like Easter eggs, Advent calendars have been secularized to the extent that it’s no wonder that a lot of people are asking what is advent?!


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