Each year more and more people are discovering that in contrast to the busy rush of the holiday season, the celebration of Advent offers the refreshing opportunity to slow down a bit and to tune into the things that matter most.
What much of the culture calls the holiday season has throughout church history been called Advent. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25 and culminates on Christmas Eve. Advent is four weeks filled with preparation, expectation, and hope. The first Sunday of Advent is actually the New Year’s Day for the Church, as on that day the Church is beginning its new year. So Advent is a time for beginning again, a time for fresh starts, and experiencing the newness of life in Christ.
Advent is an old Latin word meaning “coming.” It is a term that the ancient Church borrowed from the Roman culture where “advent” meant the coming of news of victory or the coming of the Emperor for a state visit. It was a time of joy and celebration as Roman citizens would gather, usually at the city gates, to welcome the coming of “salvation.” For early Christians the idea of “advent” seemed fitting for celebrating the Good News of Jesus Christ and the coming of salvation through him.
Significantly, the Latin word “advent,” was also used to translate the Greek word parousia, that Christians used for Christ’s glorious Second Coming. Thus, for Christians, Advent came to be associated not only with Christ’s first coming as the babe in Bethlehem, but also Christ’s coming again in power and majesty at the end of the ages. Advent is thus a time of preparation, of getting ready, and joyous celebration.
The first coming of Christ is a wondrous, historical event that has already taken place. He is truly Immanuel, God-with-us. And his first coming was so glorious that Christians anticipate its celebration weeks in advance. His first coming proved so pivotal for world history that we even divide all time into B. C., and A. D., or time before and after Christ’s coming. The world has never been the same.
But Advent is not only a time that we reflect on Christ’s first coming, it is also a time that we look for his coming again in power and glory. During Advent we pray and long for that great Day when every wrong will be put right, every tear wiped away, and heaven and earth will be one.
Until then we live in the “in-between-times,” and look for Christ’s coming into our lives even now, in the countless ways that we are daily touched by his presence. This is truly a season for joy and celebration. It is also a time for stillness, for reflection, and awe.