What is Advent?

I grew up in church. In fact, I have gone to church most of my life. Most churches where I was a member have always had a tradition of lighting Advent candles during the four Sunday services leading up to Christmas. And probably somewhere along the way, the purpose of the Advent tradition was explained.  I know Advent means to wait and prepare for Christ’s coming. But that’s about it for me.

You may have a more clear understanding about Advent and how this tradition fits into our Christmas celebrations. But I don’t think I’m the only one who has been “in the dark” about why those candles are lit each Sunday. What is the deeper meaning behind the season of Advent?  Hopefully what I learned will help us experience Advent in a new way this year.

THE HISTORY OF ADVENT

Although Advent customs originated a long time ago as a time of prayer and fasting, evangelical Christians have begun observing the four weeks of Advent and its spiritual significance through serious reflection of the past and joyful expectation for the future.

The Advent season is observed in many Christian churches as a time of reflecting on Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby as well as in preparation and anticipation of his majestic return as King.

Advent presents a reason to pause and reflect on God’s grand plan that is so much bigger than us. We can widen our focus to see God’s ultimate provision and purpose for this world.

We can share in the longing of the generations of saints who came before us. The longing and expectation for the awaited Messiah. They waited in hope for the coming of a Savior without knowing any of the details. We await the second coming of Jesus Christ in much the same way.

THE CANDLES OF ADVENT

The candles lit during Advent services represent the light of God entering into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ. Their colors are usually purple, pink and white. Purple symbolizes repentance and the royalty of Christ. Pink symbolizes joy and anticipation. White stands for the purity of Christ.

THE THEMES OF ADVENT

There are four themes presented during Advent; one for each week. Sometimes they are celebrated in different order, but the acknowledgement of all four themes is at the heart of the tradition.

Hope – The heart attitude of waiting for God builds hope in us that God has provided for us in the past and will continue to in the future. We look back to the hope displayed by the Israelites as they awaited the coming Messiah. Hope for us exists in spite of our current circumstances, knowing that God will make a way through our wilderness.

Peace – Through Jesus’ birth, God made complete what was once broken. He brought peace by sending our Savior into the world. Being a people of peace, we are called to humility, patience and bearing with each other in love. Despite the brokenness of the world around us, He remains our Peace.

Joy – Christ’s birth was announced by the angels “we bring you tidings of great joy”. We experience joy during the season of Advent because we know that through Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, we are saved from an eternity without God. Our joy isn’t based on current struggles but on a promised future with Him.

Love – During the Advent season we are given an opportunity to both receive and give love.  God’s love was given to us through the gift of His Son. When we pause to reflect on the gravity of the gift, we receive it anew with overwhelming love for Him. In addition, we are to love God and our neighbor. This is a season in which we can look for others to love in the name of Jesus.

THE HEART OF ADVENT

“God’s people mourn the brokenness of the world and also participate in the sacred hope that Christ has come and will come again. To celebrate Advent is to make space for vitally important Christian practices: stillness, silence, and longing. We’re invited to light candles in the darkness, to proclaim hope through the silence, and to embrace peace amidst the violence of a world in desperate need of a Savior.”*

(Thanks to Thoughtco.com, DesiringGod.org, thebibleproject.com, and Christianity Today for information included in this week’s post.)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NIV 

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