On the phone the other day, a Baptist friend asked me—“what is advent?” It’s a good question. I grew up not knowing anything about it.
Advent means “coming.” It is the season before Christmas (four weeks) in the Christian calendar to prepare for Christ’s coming.
Let’s back up. The Christian year, in the liturgical calendar, begins with Advent. It is our new year. The church calendar is based on a conviction that we should have a God-centered view of time. Like Israel of old, we measure time, not in Hallmark days, but by God’s work. Christians measure time by Jesus Christ—“all things were created by him and for him.” (Col. 1.16). In the Bible there is preparation before Christ’s birth. God himself prepared the world for the coming of his Son. So in a general way, Advent is a Biblical concept.
In the early days of the church, Easter was the main annual feast of the church. In time, it was preceded by a 40 day period (corresponding to Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness) called Lent, where people prepared their hearts for Resurrection Sunday, and where candidates for baptism prepared for their Easter baptism. Christmas began to be widely celebrated in the 4th century. Soon it became as popular as Easter. So churchmen in the East, and later in the West, thought it appropriate to precede Christmas with a preparation period like Lent. Advent was not so much an early celebration of Christmas, as it was a spiritual season of preparation for Christ’s coming.
So why do Evangelicals need Advent? Many of us did not grow up with Advent traditions. Why should we change? Let me give you four good reasons.
1 Our Decembers and our Christmases are a mess. They are over crowded, over caloried, over indebted, and over stressed. They are devoid of spiritual discipline. Advent offers us the opportunity to, as the old carol says, “let every heart prepare him room.” It helps us become intentional about simplifying our lives, controlling the calendar, planning quiet and reflection into our month, and focusing on Christ.
2 Through the year our hearts get crowded with idols. Calvin called the human heart, an “idol factory.” We keep manufacturing new idols that take the place of God. Because of this we need special times to search our hearts, dethrone our idols, and re-enthrone our king. What better time to do it?
3 Advent gives us time to ponder the birth of Christ. Incarnation is, afterall, the grand miracle where God entered time and lived among us. He put his righteousness and glory on display and secured our redemption. By keeping Advent, like Mary, we can take time to “ponder all these things in our hearts.”
4 Advent is a great time to remind ourselves of Christ’s second coming. Advent really has three reference points. Some even speak of His three comings. First, we look back and celebrate Christ’s first coming into the world at Bethlehem. Next we celebrate Christ’s present coming to us in this special season. If we are spiritually awake, he will come to our souls afresh each Christmas. Finally, we celebrate and look forward to his promised return. We think about this too little. Advent season gives us an opportunity to look ahead with great hope.
Advent is all about being ready for the comings of Christ. Are you? Jesus said, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. “ (Matthew 24.44)