Advent is the season in the Church Calendar designed to encourage believers to prepare their hearts to celebrate the coming of Jesus. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. The word advent means coming or arrival. As a result, it is a preparation for two arrivals – Jesus’ incarnation (his first coming) and his promised return (his second coming). Like any of the seasons or events on the Church Calendar, such as Easter, Lent or Pentecost, it is not the event or season that is worshipped, but the One to whom the season points – God. Advent helps us prepare to celebrate both the stunning reality that God the Son came to us in the flesh and the sobering reality that he will one day return to judge the world.
It is interesting to note that the early Church did not observe Christmas until 354 A.D. The early Christians didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth for the same reason that they didn’t celebrate anyone’s birthday or anniversary. To do so was considered pagan and superstitious. As a result, the early Church never bothered to preserve an accurate record of the date Jesus’ birth. It probably was some time in the spring, as the shepherds were out in the fields at night watching over their flocks – not exactly what you would find them doing in the cold winter nights of Bethlehem.
However, the fourth century saw several key moments in the Church’s theological understanding of who Jesus really is. In 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea, Church leaders brought doctrinal clarity to the Biblical testimony of Jesus being fully God and fully human. In 354 A.D. Bishop Liberius of Rome established December 25th to be the day to celebrate Christ’s birth. Toward the end of the fourth century, Church leaders at the Council of Sargossa established a season prior to Christmas for Christians to use to prepare for the remembrance of Jesus’ birth. This was the beginning of Advent.
Advent is observed by reading the Biblical passages that refer to the coming of the promised Messiah and Jesus’ own promises that he will return. Wreaths are made as symbols of eternity with greenery added to remind us of the new life he brings. Candles are lit to represent the promised light coming into a world of deep darkness. And calendars are marked to count down the days as well as making the most of each day as it comes.
So, what about the wreaths and the candles and the calendars? Are they important? Is there a right way to use them? Does it really matter? Are there particular passages in the Bible that are good to read in Advent? And why are we having an Advent Kick Off Party? Over the next few weeks, we will look at each of these in our weekly emails. We will also have handouts each Sunday for you to pick up.
For now, make sure to mark your calendar to plan to stick around a little later than normal on Sunday, November 24th for our Kick Off Party.