Observing Advent

December 10, 2017


If you come from an ecumenical background, you probably have some understanding of the season of Advent. If you didn’t grow up in the church or come from a background which observed Advent, you may be a little confused about what the Advent season is all about. In fact, it might seem a little weird or religious. In this post I want to share what Advent is and why I fell in love with the season.

 

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which is the Latin form of the Greek word parousia, which is the word commonly used for the second coming of Christ. Since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux, western Christians have observed Advent as three different types of Christ’s coming: His first coming, His daily coming into our lives, and His last and final coming on that glorious day of His return. Observations of the season vary, but many see the value in slowing down, fasting, and using candles signifying themes of hope, love, joy, and peace to strain out the many blessings of the season. Whatever the practices of those who observe Advent, it is the meaning of the season upon which they all agree.

 

Advent is the season leading up to Christmas that cherishes and recognizes that God came to earth, humbling himself as a baby, taking human form, and becoming our Savior and Redeemer. It is a season in which we, through many means, reflect upon the beauty and miracle of the virgin birth, the extraordinary obedience of a sinless life, and the immeasurable benefit of Christ’s death to wash away our sins. It is also the season of anticipation of Christmas Day, a time when we hopefully are surrounded by family, experiencing the joy of giving gifts and eating a family meal together. That celebration points to another day––the second coming of Jesus, in which there will be another, but more glorious meal––the wedding supper of the Lamb. The eternal gift of salvation, the new heaven, and new earth will come to pass. This is why we observe Advent and it's what we experience as we do so.

 

Before having children I was kind of a Scrooge. I didn’t hate Christmas, but it wasn’t that special to me. When my kids were born, however, the observation of Christmas became more fun and exciting. As they grew, I longed to add value to the season and then it hit me...the season already has all the value it needs. I could add nothing to it. The only thing that was left for me to do was simply observe it. As I read more about church history and Advent, I began to understand how much I was missing. What I had viewed as stiff, religious, nostalgia was really this beautiful celebration that I was missing out on.

 

As with many traditions, they can become stale over time as we hand them down to the next generation, where our children don't experience the revelation and beauty of the season like we did. It's a great argument for sharing the "why" of traditions, observing them with your children in a way that captures the foundation of the meaning, as well as experiencing the essence of the season in all its nostalgic ways. A solid, thought-out Advent season is the easiest way to do that. Its easy to get our attention stuck on traditions and with trying to keep up with all that is expected. But I wonder, if we chose to slow down and recapture the meaning of Christmas would we, like so many Christians through the years who got excited about the Advent story of Christ’s first coming, look forward with anticipation to the Second Coming? Wouldn't create a space for our children experience Christ with us today in new and real ways? I am excited to help the next generation see the immense value and spiritual depth of the Advent season, and observe it for all of its glory and wonder.

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