Advent: What it Means and Why it Matters
Are we missing Advent?
Whiskey. Honey. Cosmetics. Hot sauce. Legos. These are just a handful of the things you can find behind the doors of an Advent calendar this year.
While recognizing the ingenuity and fun of these holiday gifts, it’s worth reflecting on what they might say about our collective view of Advent. As the calendars become bigger and more complex, has our view of Advent become smaller and shallower?
But is there more to Advent than consuming our favorite items while tracking the days until Christmas?
What is Advent?
We learn a lot about Advent by focusing on the word itself—let’s nerd out for a moment.
Advent means “coming,” from the Latin word adventus. This makes complete sense as we connect Advent to the coming of Jesus in his incarnation—God the Son entering his world as a baby, which we celebrate at Christmas.
To get at the fuller, original meaning of Advent, we need to press in a bit more. Latin adventus comes from the Greek word parousia. This references the second coming of Christ, when he returns to judge the world and make all things new.
Why does Advent matter?
Why do these old words matter?
Adventus and parousia broaden our perspective of what it looks like to celebrate the faithfulness of God during Advent. They direct our attention to the first and second comings of Christ.
As early as the fourth century, the Church observed both realities during the weeks of Advent. You might have unknowingly embraced both comings of Jesus by singing the popular Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World.”
When the hymn was written by Isaac Watts, he wasn’t thinking of the first coming of Jesus in the incarnation—he was writing about the second coming of Christ. At this time, Jesus will come to “make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
Advent causes us to look back and celebrate what God has done in the first arrival of Jesus. And it invites us to look ahead, anticipating what God will do when Jesus returns. This means that, during the Advent season, we’re not just passive observers of God’s story of redemption. We get to be active participants, orienting our hearts and minds to the reign of Jesus as we live our day-to-day lives in faithful anticipation.
How is Advent relevant for you today?
This twofold perspective of Jesus’s first arrival and second coming forces us to get outside of ourselves as Christmas approaches. We’re faced with the counter-cultural reality that Advent is less about personal comfort and consumerism leading up to Christmas morning and more about submitting our lives to the reign of God.
Use these three reflection questions to help you appreciate the relevance of Advent today:
- Do you sense yourself drifting into unrepentant sin or a contentment with spiritual laziness?
Advent challenges you to live like Jesus is the King who reigns and will return—to see that the Mighty God who loves you also calls you to follow him with all of your life while longing for his second coming.
- Are you feeling overwhelmed in your life or community by the power of suffering or injustice?
Advent reminds you that the Prince of Peace has entered human history. He is with you, and he will return to make all things right.
- Are you in a season of doubt or discouragement when it comes to your faith? Do you feel the weight of anxiety or depression in your own life, or for someone you love?
Advent helps you remember that the people walking in darkness are greeted by the light of God. You are seen, known, and loved by King Jesus now and forever.
Practice Observing Advent This Year:
Here are three tools to intentionally practice looking back and looking ahead this Advent season:
- Light Advent Candles
Traditionally, churches and families light a candle on each of the four Sundays of Advent leading up to Christmas. These are a tangible way for to anticipate Jesus in the community of our family and friends.
Each candle represents a different gospel reality: hope, peace, joy, and love. These aren’t just warm, fuzzy feelings for us to relish, but Kingdom truths that we can cling to in this season of looking back and looking ahead. Many also include a fifth Christ candle to light on Christmas Day, reminding us that Jesus is the light of the world.
Use this Advent series from The Bible Project to dig further into each gospel reality represented by the candles as the weeks of Advent progress.
- Meditate on the Songs of Anticipation.
Consider the daily practice engaging with one (or both) of the two songs in Luke leading up to Jesus’s first coming. The first is Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55), known as the Magnificat, and the second is Zechariah’s Song (Luke 1:68-79), known as the Benedictus.
Both songs are rich in theological depth, serving as a source of ongoing reflection and prayer to stir your longing for King Jesus.
- Recite a Short, Powerful Prayer.
One of the earliest (and shortest) prayers that Christians have emphasized during Advent comes from 1 Corinthians 16:22. This prayer is so short that it takes up just one word in Greek:
Maranatha, which means “our Lord, come!”.
Memorize this one-word prayer. Write it somewhere. Pray through it as a rhythm for your day when you see that things aren’t as they should be. And let this prayer focus your heart and mind on the King who is with you and loves you.
A Bigger Advent
The true meaning of Advent is far bigger than what lies behind the little cardboard doors on our holiday calendars. Whether or not you partake in the fun of Advent calendars, let your Advent season be about more than opening a door to retrieve a trinket. Let this Advent be an occasion for opening your heart to Jesus—the King who has come to us and will come to us again.