The celebration of Advent took root early in the history of the church. Even so, many Christians are unfamiliar with the origin as well as the significance of Advent. Some years ago, I came across an article by Chris Armstong about the historical worth of Advent. It was posted online at christianitytoday.com. Here is an excerpt:
Once upon a time, in fourth- and fifth-century Gaul and Spain, Advent was a preparation not for Christmas but for Epiphany. That’s the early-January celebration of such diverse events in Jesus’ life as his Baptism, the miracle at Cana, and the visit of the Magi. In those days, Epiphany was set aside as an opportunity for new Christians to be baptized and welcomed into the church. So believers spent Advent’s forty days examining their hearts and doing penance. It was not until the sixth century that Christians in Rome began linking this season explicitly to the coming of Christ. But at that time, and for centuries after, the ‘coming’ that was celebrated was not the birth of Jesus, but his Second Coming. It was not until the Middle Ages that the church began using the Advent season to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. And even then, this newer sense of the Lord’s advent or coming did not supplant the older sense—the Second Coming. And the muted, Lent-like mood of penitential preparation remained alongside the joyous anticipation of Jesus’ birthday.
Advent is a joyous yet contemplative celebration of present and future grace. As such it acknowledges two certainties: Jesus Christ has come (John 1.14; 2 Timothy 3.16); Jesus Christ will come again (Acts 1.11; 1 Thessalonians 5.2). The first Advent of Jesus was attested to by a library of Old Testament passages beginning with Moses, and all the Prophets including the Psalms. The second Advent of Jesus Christ is also attested to by numerous passages in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15.22-23; 2 Corinthians 5.10; 2 Peter 3.10; Revelation 22.20). As does the Word of God, current celebration of Advent is double-edged: it is grounded in the joy that accompanied Jesus’ birth in the past; it is a hope-filled, future-focused anticipation of His return. Advent invites us to be joyous yet contemplative.
Advent has also inspired a treasury of hymns appropriate to the season. Some joyously exhort every heart to prepare Him room, while others bid us happily to hearken to herald angels. Still others have us sing about shepherds watching over their flocks by night. And then there are the contemplative hymns such as, “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” “Lo How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming,” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.” When we sing these hymns, we add our voices to an ever growing chorus of witnesses who, for centuries, have celebrated Advent with merry hearts and pensive souls.
Advent is a season given to rememberance and celebration. Advent is about readiness; with readiness comes a sense of anticipation; with anticipation comes reflection. Given that Advent is about readiness, anticipation, and preparation, the most pressing question is not “What are we getting ready for?” but rather “For Whom are we getting ready?”
You think about that.