As many realize, for centuries followers of Jesus have celebrated the weeks leading up to Christmas (starting four Sundays before) as the Advent season. Advent is just a word that means "coming" or "arrival," and it focuses on the arrival and coming again of Jesus into the world. I found the following article excerpt by Chris Armstrong from Preaching Today. It is a helpful summary of what Advent represents and describes why it is a wonderful way of practicing the anticipation and expectation that the people of God have in Jesus. So, I wish you a glorious Advent season!
I confess: when my parents tried to impress on my two brothers and me the importance and the intricacies of Advent observance, I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes. In a country that spends its cold Decembers in hot pursuit of food, presents, and parties, the historical niceties of an ancient liturgical season seemed … well … irrelevant. These days, on the other side of an evangelical conversion and nearly a decade of graduate study in church history, I've begun to see what excited my parents about Advent. I'm even entertaining the possibility that my own young family might benefit from an informed observance of Advent.
In fact, Advent season presents a unique opportunity to many Protestants. It's like the once-a-year conjunction of two planets: It brings a great mass of Bible-loving, praise-and-worshipping, extemporaneously praying born-again Protestant Christians into close contact with a big chunk of the historic church's liturgy. Even many non-liturgical Protestants don't think twice about joining in the season's rituals, old as well as new. They pull out and count off advent calendars, listen to lectionary sermon themes and Bible readings, and recite set prayers at the dinner table around candles in meaningful hues of purple and rose.
What is this thing called Advent? Once upon a time, in 4th- and 5th-century Gaul and Spain, Advent was a preparation not for Christmas but for Epiphany. That's the early-January celebration of such diverse events in Jesus' life as his Baptism, the miracle at Cana, and the visit of the Magi. In those days, Epiphany was set aside as an opportunity for new Christians to be baptized and welcomed into the church. So believers spent Advent's 40 days examining their hearts and doing penance. It was not until the 6th century that Christians in Rome began linking this season explicitly to the coming of Christ. But at that time, and for centuries after, the "coming" that was celebrated was not the birth of Jesus, but his Second Coming. It was not until the Middle Ages that the church began using the Advent season to prepare to celebrate Christ's birth. And even then, this newer sense of the Lord's advent or coming did not supplant the older sense—the Second Coming. And the muted, Lent-like mood of penitential preparation remained alongside the joyous anticipation of Jesus' birthday.
So, the modern liturgy divides Advent into a period, through December 16th, during which the focus is Christ's Second Coming, and a period, from December 17th to the 24th, focusing on his birth. It starts with sobering passages and prayers about the apocalyptic return of the Lord in judgment. Then it moves to Old Testament passages foretelling the birth of a messiah and New Testament passages trumpeting John the Baptist's exhortations and the angels' announcements.
Every year these rich Scriptural reminders and the traditional prayers that accompany them set my blood rushing a little faster and bring a rising excitement: Christ came with plenty of prior notice! Prophets and angels joined to proclaim his coming! And now I can join too, with the cloud of witnesses stretching back to apostolic times, in the same proclamation! And in the protected, quiet times of meditation, I can respond as I imagine believers have done on every Advent since the tradition began: I can bow my head and prepare my heart to receive the One who is always present, but who seems distant in the busyness of the season. I can mourn for my hardness of heart. I can hope in his grace. And I can rejoice that in answer to the cry, "O come, O come, Emmanuel," he came. Would I really be able to do this—in the midst of December's commercial rush of lights, decorations, present-buying, and piped-in carols—without a gently insistent, weekly liturgical pattern? Maybe. But I'm not rolling my eyes any more.