Many Christians know that the Advent presents an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is true, but there’s more to Advent.
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”
Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these last days, as Christians await the return of Christ to begin his eternal kingdom. During Advent, the church looks back on Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in anticipation of the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.
Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Advent begins on a Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year. Advent 2019 begins on Sunday, December 1st and ends on Tuesday, December 24.
Over the course of the four weeks, some Advent Scripture readings look forward to Christ’s return in judgment while other passages remember the events of Christ’s arrival two thousand years ago.
The Advent wreath is created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. Advent candles are often nestled in the evergreen wreath. Additional decorations, like holly and berries, are sometimes added. Families begin lighting a candle on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and they light another candle each subsequent Sunday.
The most common Advent candle tradition involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. The four candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.
The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too.
The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day.
We are a people of promise. For centuries, God prepared people for the coming of his Son, our only hope for life. At Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of the promises God made—that he would give a way to draw near to him.
Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before December 25, sometimes in the last weekend of November, sometimes on the first Sunday in December.
1 Peter 1:10-12 is a clear description of what we look back to during Advent.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12 )
For four weeks, it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus. That’s what advent means—coming. Even God’s men who foretold the grace that was to come didn’t know “what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating.” They were waiting, but they didn’t know what God’s salvation would look like.
In fact, God revealed to them that they were not the ones who would see the sufferings and glory of God’s Christ:
They were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.
They were serving us. We Christians on this side of Jesus’ birth are a God-blessed, happy people because we know God’s plan. The ancient waiting is over. We have the greatest reason to celebrate.
May we, this Advent season, use this time before Christmas to better appreciate the great gift God gave us in Jesus, His Son. And, also, to anticipate Jesus’ Second Coming, when He will take Christians away to be with Him for eternity.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
May this Advent season fill our hearts and homes with a deep appreciation of what God has done for us in the past, and the joyful anticipation of what God has planned for our future.