What Exactly Is Advent, and How Can We Celebrate?

What Exactly Is Advent, and How Can We Celebrate?

It’s a common refrain this time of year: “Merry Christmas!” But what many of us don’t realize is that the season of Christmas hasn’t yet begun. In actuality, we are in the season of Advent, which means “coming” and begins four Sundays before Christmas.

What is Advent, and how do we celebrate it?

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family celebrating advent

What Is Advent?

Advent is the beginning of the church year for Christians and is a time when we prepare for the coming of the Christ. This year, 2021, Advent began Sunday, November 28.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus. In Greek the word is Parousia, meaning “a presence” or “a coming.” It is a time not only to prepare for the birth of Christ and the Christmas season—which runs from Christmas Eve through January 6, commonly known as the 12 days of Christmas— but to honor and consider Christ’s second coming.

How Do We Celebrate Advent?

Many churches offer Advent services in the four weeks prior to Christmas that feature the lighting of Advent candles in an Advent wreath. An Advent wreath is a simple circular arrangement, usually of flowers, leaves, or stems, with one central candle symbolizing the presence of Christ and four exterior candles surrounding it. The four exterior candles are lit one a week, each one representing a different theme: joy, hope, peace, and love. Every Sunday, one more of the exterior candles is lit, and, the Christ candle at the center is lit to remind us of Christ’s constant, steady, saving presence in our lives.

Is Advent about the Coming of Christmas, or Something More?

Advent is twofold—it honors the coming of the Christ child, a time when we share stories about His miraculous and holy birth and how His coming into this world ushered in a new season of Emmanuel, or Christ with us, here in the flesh. But its deeper message is one of spiritual preparation, which is the ultimate significance of the season: our Christian call to be ready for the second coming of Christ.  

For while Christ ascended to heaven and left us the Holy Spirit to be our advocate in His time away, He promised that one day He would indeed return.

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Christmas Ornaments on a tree

What Are Ways We Can Celebrate Advent?

First, we can attend worship services at church where we light the Advent wreath and sing songs about Christ. Music is a powerful way to reflect on Christ’s time among us and His promise to return. While song songs this time of year are Christmas focused, others are solidly Advent-themed, reflecting the longing we have for Christ in the world today. For instance, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a popular and holy Advent song about the coming of Christ.

Second, we can engage in Advent activities in our own homes. Some Christians engage in prayer, fasting, or reflective periods of repentance. Others craft their own Advent wreaths with candles, or put up a nativity scene to reflect on the first coming of Christ into the world as a tiny baby. Many read devotionals throughout Advent, preparing their hearts and minds.

Third, we can craft a Jesse Tree, which helps us prepare for Advent by journeying through Jesus’s family tree. With the Jesse Tree, we decorate a tree to see how God prepared for Jesus to be born through many generations. Each day of Advent, we can read a Bible story about someone on His family tree and hang an ornament symbolizing their story. The origins of the Jesse Tree are rooted in Isaiah 11:1, which prophesies, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

In the New Testament, the lineage of Jesus is traced by two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, noting that he comes from the line of Jesse, father of King David and descendant of the tribe of Judah from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Romans 15:8–13, the apostle Paul specifically acknowledges Jesus as this root of Jesse in whom “the Gentiles will hope.”

What Are Some Modern Ways to Mark Advent?

One popular new tradition is the Advent photo-a-day challenge, where people are invited to reflect on the 28 days before Christmas with a visual reflection of some of the elements of Advent. Some Advent challenges offer words for each day to prompt a photo, such as “righteousness,” “seek,” “offering,” or “gladness.” Photos can be serious or silly and are often posted on social media to encourage community reflection of the holy season.

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Small wooden manger next to an open Bible

Is It Wrong to Say “Merry Christmas” during Advent?

Christmas is a time of joy, and it is never wrong to celebrate the birth of Christ. This can be done all year long, for Christmas tiding are indeed good news and cause for merriment. In that sense, saying “Merry Christmas” is not wrong, bad, or even incorrect.

However, it is helpful to know that there are other times of importance in the Church Universal, and celebrating those seasons together can bring a new and special kind of fellowship and Holy Spirit-sparked festivity. Christians are not only Christmas and Easter people—we are people of Christ, and Christ is in each one of us every day when we believe in Him and choose to follow Him.

Wishing someone a “blessed Advent” is a beautiful thing, for together we can treasure the knowledge that Jesus Christ will indeed return and take us all home to God’s heavenly kingdom with Him.

What Did Jesus Say about His Return?

Some things we should and can keep in mind as we reflect on Advent are words Jesus Himself said during His ministry on earth.

First, He told us that no one knows the day or the hour of His return—only God knows (Mark 13:32). For that reason, we are to always be ready (Luke 12:40).

Jesus also said there will be signs that indicate his potential return, and while those are not predictors (Matthew 24:6-7, Luke 21:25-27), we should attempt to recognize the signs as further encouragement to stay on guard and be prepared for His second coming.

He also urged us to stay strong in spite of temptations, fear, or persecution, for our reward will be great.

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Open Bible next to Christmas lights

Some Advent Verses to Pray Upon

The coming of Christ and the fulfillment of God’s plan for this earth is woven throughout the Bible. Here are a few verses to pray on this year as you consider the coming of the Lord:

Jeremiah 33:14-16, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’”

Luke 21:34-36, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Philippians 1:3-11, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

Zephaniah 3:14-17, “Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’”

If you have other favorite Advent verses, share them. Let’s all celebrate Advent together as we rejoice in the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who came among us as a tiny baby and will return again a triumphant prince of peace.

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Jessica Brodie author photo headshotJessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.

What Exactly Is Advent, and How Can We Celebrate?