It is truly the most wonderful time of the year. The tinsel and garland and bows are nice, but they are merely reflections of the true glory found in the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus, two thousand years ago. In the Christian Church, the Christmas season is traditionally called the “Season of Advent.” Advent is a form of the Latin word for “coming.” For the next four Sundays, churches and individuals around the world will be observing the glorious first coming of Jesus and look forward to His imminent return via the Advent celebration. Wreaths with candles, prayers, and Scripture infuse the season.
Here on Growing Young, I will once again keep a daily Advent devotional. I’ve done this every year since 1997. Last year I took the best of those posts and added a few new ones to create a colorful PDF Advent booklet. This year, some posts will be brand new, but others will be reminders of the past Advent blogs and the devotional book. Here’s a summary of Advent from the book to fill you in on the background of the ancient Church celebration. I invite you to celebrate with me each day this month, up to Christmas Day.
A HISTORY LESSON
The ancient church celebrated Christmas, as well, though its holiday season looked a bit different than ours. For the first few hundred years of the Church’s existence, Christmas was a low-key affair. Persecution and disorganization meant that the birth of Jesus was celebrated differently and at different times across the Roman Empire. In fact, it wasn’t until the faith became legal in the Empire in AD 313 that public Christmas celebrations took form.
The oldest Christmas tradition we know of today was the “Advent” celebration. “Advent” is the old Latin word for “coming” and refers to the four-week celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ that also looks forward to His return. It started as an observance in the home, usually around the dinner table, that eventually took form in the public church.
Because of a lack of reliable written resources, describing the earliest advent celebrations can be rather sketchy. All we know is that families would cut down and then form a wreath out of a branch of an evergreen tree. Embedded in the greenery were four or five candles, each to be lit on one of the four weeks leading up to the regional Christmas celebration. Each week one candle’s light was added so that the light inside the home would grow stronger until the last candle was lit and the family would celebrate in marvelous light.
After the Reformation of the 1500s, the observance faded from many of the Protestant churches. Some kept the tradition alive, but as the Church became more fractured into denominations and theologies, the numbers decreased.
But in the past 20 years Advent has made a comeback. Now it is common for large churches to hold Advent celebrations during their worship services. When I was pastoring at a small Texas church, I added the Advent celebration one winter and, after initial skepticism, it soon added depth to our normal Christmas worship.
THE MODERN ADVENT CELEBRATION
Public Advent in a church usually involves the lighting of one candle on each Sunday of the Christmas season to celebrate one aspect of Christ’s coming. Details of the ceremony vary from church to church. Some have families read Scripture or share a testimony. Others have a minister light the candles.
Private Advent takes place in the home, many times on a daily basis. It involves the lighting of one candle each weekday along with the reading of Scripture and prayer. It is best done as a family event, just as it was in ancient days, but individuals can find deeper meaning as well.
THE ADVENT WREATH
Typically, a green wreath is used to represent the eternal nature of Christ and the everlasting life He brings. The color of the five candles also has significance and, often, vary in color based on availability and topic. Many different topics have been celebrated each week, including light, holiness, prophecy, hope, joy, peace, and salvation. I usually have three purple taper candles to represent Christ’s royalty, since purple was considered to be the color of royalty in the ancient day. My fourth candle is either pink or red, to represent either Christ’s humanity or His salvation. A large white candle, often called the Christ Candle, is often placed in the center of the wreath and should be lit only on Christmas Day to celebrate the coming of Christ.
Advent is a wonderful celebration for the whole family. It can be used as a daily devotion around the dinner table or before bedtime. Parents, Advent can be an exciting teaching time for you and your children. Each day of the week, you can have your child light one candle and then together read Bible verses that deal with the week’s theme. Then you can pray together and thank God for that particular aspect of Jesus’ coming.
This first week we will celebrate Jesus as the Light of the World.