Advent is that season of the Christian year when the Church turns its gaze in two directions–past and future. We look backward as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, and we look forward in self-examination as we prepare for Christ’s Second Coming.
The word advent comes from a Latin word which means “coming” or “arrival.” Our worship during Advent embraces both His coming in the Incarnation and His coming at the end of the age. Christian prayer during Advent might be summed up in the word “Come.” It is the “Come, Lord Jesus” with which the Book of Revelation ends. The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” expresses the Advent hope.
Advent includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas. It is a season of tension and paradox. In the Church’s calendar, the first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. Yet it plunges us headlong into the tension between the “already” of Christ’s coming in the flesh and the “not yet” of the consummation of all things in Christ at the end of the age. Interestingly, we begin the Christian year reflecting on the end of all human history.
Advent is preparation for Christmas, not Christmas itself. In the Christian calendar, the Christmas season is from December 25 to Epiphany on January 6. Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi.
Advent is different from Christmas in the same way Lent is different from Easter. Advent emphasizes hope, and it is this hope that makes Advent a proper preparation for Christmas.
The prophetic note is strong during Advent. We pray for the destruction of all evil powers, for the triumph of God’s justice, and for the dawning of God’s peace over all nations. That glorious prospect was illuminated by Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem where “the hopes and fears of all the years” were met on that holy night.
Our worship during Advent should joyfully focus on the Christian hope for the future.
God’s advent among us is so profound that we can never fully grasp the mystery of it all. That is why, year after year, as we approach Christmas, we continue to remember and experience anew the reality of light in the midst of the world’s darkness.
*article originally released on November 30, 2014*