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Why Do We Celebrate Advent?

This Sunday morning, we begin our celebration of the season of Advent.  The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means, “coming” or “arrival.” Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul (France), Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany.  During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration.

The word epiphany means an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being.  Thus, the Epiphany is the celebration of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, which is represented by the visit of the Magi to the
baby Jesus.  Originally though, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.  Nevertheless, by the 6th century Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem; it was his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

The wreath and its candles are the visual focus of Advent.  One of the candles is lit each week as Christmas
approaches. The circle of the Advent wreath has no beginning and no end. It portrays for us God’s timelessness and His eternal plan of salvation. The evergreen color denotes eternal life that we are granted when we come to know Christ as our Lord and Savior. The shape of the wreath is round, reminding us of the fellowship of
believers around the world who share with us the celebration of His coming.

The four outer candles represent the gifts of His spirit in us, which are: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. If you will
notice, on the outside there are three lavender or purple candles. This color reminds us of sorrow and
repentance. The fourth outer candle is pink, which reminds us of joy. The center candle is called the Christ
candle. The Christ candle will be lit during our Christmas Eve service.

Christmas has increasingly become a holiday cut off from its purpose of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, it is important for Christians to recapture the season of Advent as a time for preparing for Christmas. Advent helps Christian people prepare each other to receive the coming Christ. His coming is not limited to a backward look to Bethlehem, but extends to the present and to the future.   Though Christ is with us always, it is good for us to heighten our awareness of His presence.  And then there is the future.  One day Christ will
return in power and glory.  The Christmas season is upon us, reminding us that as Christians, we are continually “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Early Christians in the western tradition treated the days before Christmas in two ways: some as a time of
repentance and others as a time of joyous celebration.  Today these two emphases continue side by side.  In our observance of Advent, we see symbols, terms and Scripture lessons that lead us to introspection and renewal, as well as to exuberant joy and celebration as we make our way toward Christmas.