I sort of imagine there are two kinds of people out there: those who understand Advent well and continue to observe time honored traditions, and then those who don’t know/don’t care what it is. If you are from a rich tradition of keeping Advent, then I should probably be reading your thoughts on the subject. If you’re in the don’t know/don’t care camp… well, I guess you didn’t even read this far, huh? But perhaps there is a third sort of person. If you have heard about Advent and are curious, then just maybe I can help you.
Advent is about the season of waiting before the appearance of Christ. Trying to take the joy and wonder of Christmas Day and stretch it out over 4 to 6 weeks can become a chore. Advent celebrates the waiting, and reminds us that God does indeed deliver on his promises. The Advent wreath pictured above is one that my wife put together herself; click the pic to view full size. Each candle represents one Sunday of the Advent season. The colors of each candle and even the name given to each Sunday varies a bit depending on which tradition you follow. Here’s what I consider the basics:
The First Sunday of Advent is Hope, and we light the Prophesy candle.
Second Sunday of Advent is Faith, and we light the Bethleham candle.
Third Sunday of Advent is Joy, and we light the Shepherds candle.
Fourth Sunday of Advent is Peace, and we light the Angels candle.
If you observe a Christmas Eve service (or even Christmas Day) then you would also light a Jesus candle. There are scriptures that are read on each of the Advent Sundays; I recommend this Advent Devotional Guide by Mark D. Roberts for scripture readings, prayers, even songs to celebrate each Sunday of the Advent Season.
The point of Advent is that there are lessons to be learned in the waiting. Christmas means more if we wait for it, and remember the lessons learned, rather than trying to jump straight into it after Halloween. Strict observers of traditional Advent do not put up Christmas decorations or even a tree until Christmas Eve. The 12 Days of Christmas then follow Advent, thought most people have forgotten this. There were also lessons to be learned during the forty years the Hebrews waited to enter the promised land. By studying these ancient lessons, we are reminded the God not only keeps his promises, but that he has a plan. He has ordained the events of history. For Christians, the lesson is this: just as Jesus came the first time he was promised he will come again. God is not a man that he should lie. That is where our faith and hope live.
My introduction to Advent came by way of Michael Spencer. I recommend this post from 2008 for further reading. Christmas is the feast of the incarnation and the season following that event. Advent is the recognition that we need a savior and the longing for that savior to come, according to God’s promises. Beautiful