The green wreath contains four purple candles surrounding one large white candle. The day is Dec. 2. Only one purple candle is lit this day: the candle of peace. This marks the beginning of Advent.
What is Advent? When does Advent begin? How is Advent to be observed?
Advent is a Latin word which means “to come” or “the coming.” According to the Christian
calendar, the four weeks prior to Christmas Day comprise the season called Advent. For the church, this is the season to anticipate and welcome the coming of the Christ child.
Different churches observe Advent in different ways. Some churches display an Advent Wreath in the sanctuary and light a candle each Sunday until Christmas. Others plan a special service for the “Hanging of the Green” or the decorating of the Chrismon Tree. Still other churches have colorful banners that reflect the message and meaning of the season.
The Advent journey goes beyond what happens at church services. Advent is a season for preparing the heart, mind and soul for the coming of Christ. Such preparation involves participation in worship, time for quiet meditation and daily Advent devotionals. (Advent devotional guides are available at some area churches and at most Christian bookstores.)
There are also many ways to enrich each family’s Advent celebration. Decorating the home, re-reading the gospel Christmas narratives, enjoying a family sing-along and planning charitable giving all help prepare families to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Advent is a season of many emotions and many activities, and the Advent journey may involve many disciplines.
Advent is a season to anticipate the coming of Christ. It is a time to re-live each phase of the Christmas narrative. The Bible includes the messianic promises of the Old Testament and the angelic birth announcements in the New Testament. The birth of Jesus is the culmination of biblical prophecy and spiritual promise. Advent is a season for retracing the whole story of the gospel an expectant heart.
Advent is a season to reflect on the will of God. After Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Bible says “she pondered these things in her heart.” Advent is a time to draw aside from the busyness of daily routine and ponder the meaning of some significant spiritual events.
Advent is a season to worship. Believers are encouraged to assemble regularly and faithfully for Advent worship, which has a unique energy. Advent is a wonderful opportunity to join with others in the worship of “the newborn King.”
Advent is a season to celebrate the gifts of God. Christmas parades, Christmas cantatas, festive family dinners, generous giving and gracious receiving are all examples of traditional ways to celebrate the season.
Remember, Advent is a season, not an event. Advent is a journey, not a quick trip. If you will travel that journey intentionally and expectantly, you may discover again the wonder of the child in the manger.
Barry Howard is pastor at First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.