Beginning long before Thanksgiving Day- and frequently even before Halloween-- stores and media start reminding us how many days are left until Christmas. Perhaps it’s an attempt to get us into the stores to make our purchases or to urge card senders to complete their social obligations to all who sent us cards last season or to help us make plans for getting our sugary foods and pastries ready for the festivities. Whatever the reason those reminders are bombarding us daily now that the Thanksgiving Holiday is past.
It has largely not been a tradition in my denomination to observe Advent in any formal or liturgical fashion. In fact, it was not until I attained adulthood that I was formally introduced to the practice of lighting an Advent candle or even receiving an awareness of the devotional purpose of Advent. However, over the years I have come to increasingly appreciate the Advent observances and understand how much meaning that practice can add to a person’s understanding and enjoyment of the season.
The term ADVENT comes to us from the latin verb ‘advenio’ meaning ‘to come to’ and marks the season of four Sundays prior to the celebration of Christ’s birth. It began in France during the fourth century and in ancient times was strictly observed. Every Christian was required to attend church services and to fast daily.
Advent’s message is that God in Christ is coming to the world. As a past experience, God did come in that first Christmas well over 2000 years ago when shepherds were attendant and angels sang. As a future experience, Christ will come again unpredictably and with glory to judge the living and the dead. As a present experience, God may come to you this Christmas in terms of a rebirth either as a first-time experience or as a more intense realization of Christ’s presence.
Advent is clearly a time of preparation—heart preparation—as we ready ourselves for the celebration of His first coming that is marked by Christmas Day.
Here’s a sampling of Scriptural passages you may want to read each Sunday of Advent to help you prepare your own heart as you light one of the candles on the Advent wreath:
First Sunday of Advent (Dec. 02) - Light the PROPHECY CANDLE – Isaiah 11:1-5 – Keep in mind that God revealed this description of Jesus to the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Christ was born.
Second Sunday of Advent (Dec. 09) – Light the BETHLEHEM CANDLE – Micah 2:5 - Keep in mind that God told Micah the prophet where the Christ would be born and that he would be a shepherd to the people a full 700 years before Jesus’ birth.
Third Sunday of Advent (Dec. 16) - Light the SHEPHERD CANDLE – Luke 2 15-20 – Keep in mind that angels told the shepherds about Jesus. The shepherds told all they met. Let this candle challenge us all to share our faith with others.
Fourth Sunday of Advent (Dec. 23) – light the WISE MEN CANDLE – Matthew 2:9-11 – Keep in mind that the wise men saw an unusual star in the sky and set out to find it, knowing it told of the birth of the King of the Jews. These wise men willingly gave their time and their gifts.
Christmas Day – Light the CHRISTMAS CANDLE – Rev. 4:11, 5:12, 13 – Keep in mind that Jesus is no longer a baby. He is the risen Lord and our coming King.
The above is just one idea for celebrating Advent by including the Advent wreath. There are a multitude of variations on what color candles and what scriptures to use for each Sunday. The point is: regardless of how you observe Advent, the primary goal is to prepare our hearts for a fresh “coming” of the Savior into our lives, our families – and especially – our celebration of Christmas.