As a kid, I remember when Christmas was fast approaching. The Christmas tree was up, it was hot outside, and Mum would buy a chocolate Advent calendar from the shops. Remember those? Each day of the month, you would open the box and inside was a little chocolate, one for every day leading up to Christmas Day. However, that was as far as Advent went for me growing up. I did not know what Advent was all about and I certainly did not know what the word Advent meant — not many people did.
This is because whereas for many around the world, Advent is a staple within the Christian church calendar, the reverse is true in Australia. This is somewhat due to Advent being viewed as a ‘high church’ or Catholic carryover tradition. Yet, the tradition of Advent needs not be tainted by such connotations as it has a rich heritage within Protestantism due to what it is meant to encourage.
You see, ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’ which means ‘coming’, and, as you can probably guess, the tradition’s focus was on the coming of Jesus Christ at his birth, and his second coming at the end of the age.
For Christians who observe Advent, it is intended as a season of repentance, a call for believers to examine both their hearts and lives and, with God’s grace, to rid themselves of those things which we’ve set in the way of following Jesus Christ. It can be quite a solemn thing when we examine ourselves and see the sins in our own lives.
However, Advent is not only about repentance and solemnity, but also of hope and expectation. This is because at Advent we are reminded of the realities of not only the birth of the Lord Jesus, who saves, but also his return where he will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth, where the dwelling place of God is with man. The place where “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with him as their God. He will wipe away ever tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4). For those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the wonderful hope that we are awaiting!
This is why, during Advent, some churches have something that looks like a Christmas wreath with candles. This is called an Advent wreath and each Sunday in Advent (there are four), one candle is lit during each subsequent week until at Christmas Eve, all the candles are lit. As each candle is lit, over the course of four Sundays, the increasing light represents the light of Christ steadily defeating the darkness of the fallen world and ultimately overcoming it. Some churches even offer a special Advent Bible study which focus on the incarnation of Christ and of his return.
The way Christians celebrate Christmas is very countercultural in Australia. Because, whilst we do have nice food, give and receive gifts, enjoy the company of friends and family and also the break that comes during the season, our focus is on the stable and the Cross of Christ which gives Christmas its true meaning, and it is because of the Lord Jesus that we enjoy Christmas all the more.
This stands out in our culture, and one of the benefits of celebrating Advent is that while everyone else begins celebrating Christmas with lights, trees, and presents, we are having a period where a combination of solemnity and hope strands out in such a way, that it might well provide an opportunity to talk about who Jesus is, why he was born, what he achieved at the cross, his resurrection, and that he is returning as judge.