Advent Heart, Part 1: The Meaning of Advent
Advent, advent, advent. I'm hearing that word everywhere these days.
But what does it actually mean?
I didn't grow up in a church that observed the traditional Church calendar holy days (except for Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter).
Advent is new to me.
WHAT ADVENT MEANS
"Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope, and joy.
Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ's first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spirit, and in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time." -
There are three different advents, or comings, of Christ. He came first as a little baby to Bethlehem. He also comes to us now, if we will welcome Him into our lives. And He will come again one day.
Just as the Jews needed a Messiah some 2000 years ago, so do we today.
Advent is essentially a time of slowing down and a time of preparation. It's when we ready ourselves for the coming of Christ.
ADVENT WREATHS AND CANDLES
"Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas. During these four weeks, an Advent Wreath is traditionally used to represent aspects of spiritual preparation leading up to the birth or coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
The wreath, typically a circular garland of evergreen branches, is a symbol of eternity and unending love. Five candles are arranged on the wreath, and one is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services.
Each of the Advent Candle colors represents a specific element of spiritual readying for the celebration of Christmas." - ThoughtCo
Each of the colors symbolizes something, too. The pink candles represent joy, the purple symbolizes repentance and fasting, and the white represents purity and light.
An Advent wreath (or crown) is a circle of garland representing eternity, on which the Advent candles are arranged. During Advent, one candle is lit each Sunday as part of the Advent series, each one representing something different.
1. Prophecy Candle (purple) - lit in remembrance of the prophets (like Isaiah) who told about the birth of Christ. It "represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah." - ThoughtCo.
2. Bethlehem Candle (purple) - this candle symbolizes love, and can also be a symbol for the manger.
3. Shepherds Candle (pink) - represents joy.
4. Angels Candle (purple) - represents peace.
5. White center candle (lit on Christmas Eve)- represents the light of Christ that came into the world, and also purity as Christ is our perfect Savior.
There are many different forms Advent calendars can take, but they all have the capacity to present small gifts, pictures, or surprises to whomever opens each door, drawer, or bag on each day of Advent. They allow us to stop, note, and celebrate each day leading up to Christmas.
Nativity scenes can also function as an Advent calendar of sorts. Many of us (myself included) are accustomed to setting the whole set up at once, but you could choose to set it up in stages, allowing the figurines to reflect the pilgrimage of each group-- adding a member a day to draw it out, or first Joseph, Mary, and the camel; then the innkeeper, shepherds, and sheep; and finally the wisemen. There's room for creativity here!
WHY CELEBRATE ADVENT?
"First, I found that observing Advent enriched my celebration of Christmas. Taking four weeks to focus on the hope of Christ’s coming made me much more joyful when I finally got to celebrate it. The more I got in touch with my need for a Savior, the more I rejoiced at the Savior’s birth." - Mark D. Roberts
In our fast-paced, materialistic, "do more" culture, it's all too easy to think that we have to be doing all the things. We have to put up the tree. We have to bake the cookies. We have to buy presents for everyone from our hairdresser to our mailman to our grocery clerk, and we have to wrap them all beautifully-- like individual works of art. All the Christmas cards have to get sent out, and sent out early. We have to cook an elaborate meal for our family and keep the house clean. We have to attend all the parties and maybe even throw one or two ourselves. We have to be cheerful and kind and servant-hearted 24/7.
That's an awful lot to pile on our backs, don't you think? What if we embraced the idea of Advent as a reason to slow down, let go of all the "shoulds," and just focus on Jesus?
What if we didn't spend all our time shopping for presents, emptying our bank accounts, and worrying about whether or not we remembered to get all the gift receipts? What if, instead, we just set aside time to read the nativity story, sing some Christmas carols, and remember what the season is all about?
Stay tuned for the rest of the series, where I'll dig deeper into Advent and what it looks like to have an advent heart!
Do you have any Advent traditions that you observe? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
"Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent?: Prepare for the Coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas" by Mary Fairchild, ThoughtCo.
"What Is the Advent Wreath?: Learn the Symbols and Customs of the Advent Wreath" by Mary Fairchild, ThoughtCo.
"The Tradition of Advent" whychristmas.com
"What is Advent? An Introduction to Advent" by Mark D. Roberts, patheos.com