What is Advent and should I celebrate it?
Christmas can tend to be a mixed bag for many of us. It's both the most wonderful and the busiest time of the year. It's time for decorating your house inside and out, buying more presents than you probably want to, and losing all inhibitions regarding calorie counting and baking your brains out with all manner of ginger bread, snowman sugar cookies, and peppermint drinks.
And then there's this thing you've probably heard of too: Advent. Where did Advent come from, and should you consider observing it? First off, "advent' comes from a Latin word meaning "coming" and is a time the Christian church has set aside for over 1500 years to celebrate something of Christ's life. In its origins, Advent did not celebrate "Christmas" strictly speaking as much as it celebrated early parts of Jesus' life and ministry, including the visit of the Magi (a.k.a. wise men), Jesus' baptism, and his first miracle. This was a 40 day period that ended January 6th with a celebration called "Epiphany". By the 6th century, however, the celebration was squarely focused on what we now consider Christmas, the coming of Jesus to earth.
Very imporant to note is that Advent has never solely focused on the past coming of Christ; it serves a dual purpose of kindling our desire for Christ's Second Advent (coming) when he returns in glory to end human history as we know it, finally putting an end to sin and death and when all Christians will dwell with him in utter perfection and joy forever. When Advent is followed in a traditional manner, the first half focuses on Jesus' 2nd coming and the latter part focuses on his first coming as Christmas Day draws near.
Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas - therefore this year it starts November 29th, and ends on Christmas Eve.
So there are some facts about Advent. But the question remains, should a Christian observe the Advent season? Is there any substance to this thing or is it merely a tradition of men that we would be wiser to ignore?
I would contend that Advent needs to have some place in your preparation of Christmas. My biggest reason is not theological as much as it is personal: you have so many competing priorities and so many obligations during the Christmas season that it would be wise to set yourself (and your family) up with some way to anticipate and remember that "Jesus is the reason for the season." I like what I read from a Christianity Today article about Advent.
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.
OK, you're interested in doing something... but what should you do? Here are a couple great resources to use and a brief description of them.
Use this Celebrating Advent PDF for ideas of 25 Scripture readings as well as 100 (that's right, 100!) ideas of activities to do with your kids. Surely you won't do them all... but surely you can use it to jump start your brain for both fun and meaningful Christmas preparation ideas as a family.
Download (free) one of these Christmas devotionals from pastor/author John Piper: Good News of Great Joy or The Dawning of Indestructible Joy - you will find brief, worshipful writings from one of the great Christian authors of our generation to help your heart rejoice in Christ this Christmas.
If used properly, Advent is an important opportunity to celebrate Christ's first coming and anticipate his promised return. Christmas comes and goes way too fast every year as it is... do yourself a favor by incorporating something that will warm your heart to the reality of Christ's great love for you in coming to save sinners.