What Is Advent?
It seems like everyone's been given permission to set up our Christmas trees early this year. Some of us have had them up for at least a month! Why? We’re all eager to enjoy some seasonal festivity. And holiday traditions anchor us as they bring cheer into our homes. The centuries-old observation of Advent is one meaningful example—and it’s an easy way to enrich your own Christmas celebration this year.
Most of us who grew up in today’s churches may not be familiar with Advent. Advent is from the Latin word coming. It is the period observed in Christian churches leading up to Christmas. It includes the four preceding Sundays to Christmas. This year, it will begin on Sunday, November 28, and end on Thursday, December 24.
Throughout Advent, participants light candles and read Scripture surrounding the Advent, or coming, of Jesus Christ. Advent is the preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It’s a time of anticipation when we observe His first coming and look forward to His second coming. It’s a time of hope, peace, joy, and love.
What Is the Meaning of Advent?
Advent is a season when we remember the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. When it was time for His birth, God revealed it to very few people (i.e., Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth). Then, on the day He was born, God chose to reveal His birth to the shepherds who were considered to be part of the lower class, demonstrating the love and joy that was entering the world was a love and joy for all.
As His birth was foretold and fulfilled, His second coming is promised as well. Advent also represents our own longing and need for forgiveness, salvation, and a new beginning. His salvation is open to whoever believes. And when we put our trust in Jesus, we look forward to His second coming when peace and love will reign on earth.
What Are the Symbols of Advent?
Each week of Advent, we light candles to represent its different parts. Traditionally, four candles stand in a circle around a white candle in the middle. The four candles represent the Sundays of Advent. Three of the four candles are typically purple to represent repentance and the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Some churches might use other colors such as blue. The candle for the third week of Advent (i.e., the Shepherd’s Candle) is pink to represent joy and celebration. Each candle holds a special significance.
- The Prophet’s Candle symbolizes hope.
- The Bethlehem Candle symbolizes faith.
- The Shepherd’s Candle symbolizes joy.
- The Angel’s Candle symbolizes peace.
- Christ’s Candle (the white candle) symbolizes light and purity and is lit on Christmas Day.
How Do We Celebrate Advent?
In many churches today, Advent is a time of fasting, praying, reading the Bible, and lighting the candles. Each candle represents the hope, faith, joy, and peace that are often associated with the Christmas season.
During this special season, some families choose to make an Advent wreath and light the traditional candles as they follow a written devotional guide. Some families celebrate by making Advent calendars and Jesse trees. Some might simply bake homemade goodies with Christmas symbols or participate in outdoor family activities such as looking at Christmas lights.
Two other excellent online resources to enjoy and enrich your Advent: The Bible Project Advent video series and the The Advent Project from Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts (which delivers a new devotional with Scripture, poetry, music, and a reflection to your inbox each day).
No matter whether you have celebrated Advent in the past, let’s celebrate this year’s Advent season together by remembering the reason for the season. During this era of "more" and "big," rather than getting caught up in the gifts and decorations (which can be stressful), why don’t we start a new tradition in our family?
Observing Advent can help us to slow down and find comfort and meaning as we examine our hearts and prepare for God’s unconditional gift of love.