>> Sunday, November 29, 2009

I grew up attending a small Baptist church and we did not celebrate Advent. I have attended a couple of different churches throughout my teen and adult years and still knew very little about what Advent actually meant. The church we have been attending in Boston does celebrate Advent, and is placing a huge emphasis on the idea, as seen in the video, of Advent Conspiracy. So I thought I should do a little research. Here are my findings.

What is Advent?
Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season and the Church year for most Western churches. The word "Advent" means "arrival" or "coming" in Latin and represents the approach of Christ's birth (and fulfillment of the prophecies about that event) and the awaiting of Christ's second coming. It is composed of the four Sundays before Christmas day, starting on the Sunday closest to November 30th, which is the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, and ending on Christmas. Because Christmas is on a different day from year to year, Advent may last anywhere from 22 to 28 days.

In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was the preparation for the "Epiphany" rather than Christmas. (Epiphany is celebrated in early January and focuses on various events in Jesus' life such as the visits of the magi, His baptism and miracles.) It was also a time for new Christians to be baptized and welcomed into the church, while members of the church examined their hearts and focused on penance. Religious leaders exhorted the people to prepare for the feast of Christmas by fasting. Some say that early documents show that those leaders treated Advent as a second Lent.

Sometime in 6th century Rome, the focus of Advent shifted to the second coming of Christ. In the 9th century, Pope St. Nicholas reduced the duration of Advent from six weeks to the four weeks we currently observe. And finally, sometime in the middle ages--approximately the 1500's--an additional focus on the anticipation before Christ's birth was added to that of His second coming. For a more in-depth perspective, visit The History of Advent.

Celebrating the Season
For Christians, Advent is a time of reflection about the amazing gift that God gave to us in the person of His Son who came to live among us on earth. It is also an opportunity to restore Jesus to His rightful place as the center of our holiday celebrations! Advent is, appropriately, both somber and joyful!

The prevailing themes of the Advent season and the symbolism behind the activities which churches and families share are expectation and hope, preparation and peace, joy and sharing, and most of all, love. These themes are represented in the 5 candles of the Advent wreath. On each Sunday marking a new week in Advent, a candle is lit on the wreath (including candles from previous weeks) until we arrive at the snow-white center candle which stands for Christ! All Advent activities and traditions are grounded in the truth of Scripture...even though the symbolism and stories surrounding them have changed over time. The focus continues to be the great news that the Messiah was and is coming and how we live out our heartfelt longing for both.

The practice of lighting Advent candles began in Germany by non-Christians. They lit candles surrounded by evergreen branches in their windows on cold winter nights to signify their hope for the coming warmth and light of spring! Later, German Lutherans kept the practice alive and gradually the symbolism of the Advent wreath was added: evergreens represent everlasting life (because they do not die during winter) and Christian growth; the wreath is a symbol of God's unending love and of victory; candles represent Christ, the light of the world, and their purple or blue color signify the royalty of Jesus our King! Another tradition saying is that the four candles signify the 4000 years of waiting from Adam and Eve until, at long last, Jesus' birth.

All info found on Teaching Mom.  If you and your family celebrate Advent you should check out her page. She has a list of great ideas to help kids {and adults} understand the meaning behind the tradition.

And although I have not celebrated Advent thus far in my Christian life, I think this year I'll give it a go. I'm thinking the way I'll do it, is to try to break up Luke Chapter 2 (The birth of Jesus) into 25 parts and memorize it, a little everyday. Scripture memorization is not my strong suit, but I figure since I'm 20 years late on figuring out what this is all about, I better go big or go home:)

Do you celebrate Advent? If so, how?

p.s. I'm also a bit pumped about the crafts that are involved in the Advent season. Have you seen this stuff!? It's everywhere. I'm excited to now know what it all means.

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