Advent is the name given to the period of preparation leading up to Christmas. It begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. In churches that use a formal liturgical church calendar, Advent is the beginning of the Christian year because the Church begins with Christ. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” It is a celebration of Christ’s first coming, and at the same time a preparation for His return.
Beginning in the 4th century, Advent was a time for fasting and self-reflection similar to Lent. Gradually this aspect of Advent has been dropped, although the Roman Catholic Church and the more liturgical Protestant churches still encourage solemnity and discourage too much festivity. Believers from the ancient church would be shocked at our lack of seriousness during the days leading up to Christmas. We may think that they were too austere, but we could benefit from more time spent in spiritual reflection and confession of our sins.
The season of Advent is also about hope. We look back on the longing of the OT saints for the coming of the promised Messiah, and we look forward to Christ’s return. It is in times of suffering and turmoil that hope is most important. If our hope is based only on our own abilities and resources we are bound to be disappointed. But if our hope is in God we can remain confident through the storm. When we feel overwhelmed by the difficulties of life and the evil in the world we can join creation in groaning for Christ’s return (Rom. 8:18-25).
Even before Thanksgiving, preparations for Christmas are all around us, but nearly all of them have nothing to do with the birth of our Savior. What does Black Friday have to do with Jesus? Even most Christians give little thought to spiritual preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. We have to get our shopping done and send our Christmas cards like everyone else. C.S. Lewis has written a wonderful essay contrasting Christmas and Xmas (or Crissmas and Exmas as he puts it), which he describes as two entirely different holidays celebrated on the same day. I encourage you to read it and reflect on the difference between the two.
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