Introducing Advent


An Advent wreath


Many Western Christian churches observe a season called “Advent” (from the Latin adventus, or “coming”) in expectation of the celebration of Christ’s Nativity at Christmas.  Commencing on the fourth Sunday prior to 25 December — which happens to be today, but which, in any given year, can range from 27 November to 3 December — it is the beginning of the liturgical year in the Moravian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic calendars.  (Eastern Christian communions celebrate a rough equivalent of Advent called the “Nativity Feast,” but its role and function is somewhat different, and I won’t be dealing with it here.)


Latin adventus is equivalent to the Greek term parousia, which is commonly used in reference to Christ’s Second Coming.  Not coincidentally, therefore, Advent celebrations typically anticipate his glorious return in addition to commemorating his birth in Bethlehem.  Just as ancient Jews longed for the coming of the Messiah, modern Christians are, or should be, alert and yearning for his Second Advent.  For this reason, some theologians call Advent “the season of already/not yet.”


Norwegian Advent candles


Advent isn’t biblical — the first plain references to it appear in the latter half of the sixth century — and it surely isn’t required for salvation.   But then, the same can be said of virtually every one of our Western Christmas traditions.  Still, it seems not only harmless but, amidst the high-pressure commercialism and the rat race of contemporary Christmas observance (if that’s really the word for what our society does), a pretty good way of preparing spiritually for what is, after all, s supremely spiritual and religious holiday (i.e., “holy day”).  Various Advent candles, calendars, and wreaths are used to mark the season and to mark off its days as they pass, as are different colors (e.g., in candles and vestments) — notably purple and blue and, sometimes, rose.


Advent candles are sometimes used liturgically


The two scriptural passages routinely read on Advent Sunday are, from the Old Testament, Zechariah 9:9-10, and, from the New, Matthew 21:1-9.  They represent Christ’s entry into the Church, since Advent Sunday is, as mentioned above, the first day of many churches’ liturgical calendars.


Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.  (Zechariah 9:9-10, KJV))


Advent calendars can take innumerable forms


And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,

Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.

And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,

And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.

And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.  (Matthew 21:1-9, KJV)



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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Perhaps the celebration of Christmas has become too routine, but I feel my strongest emotional response to passages of scripture or song that speak of Christ’s Second Coming, an event that we Latter-day expect to come in the not too distant future. “Once in David’s Royal City” has a third verse that promises Christ’s return, and singing a choir arrangement of it last Christmas, it was all I could do to not choke up in the midst of the song.

    • danpeterson

      I know exactly what you mean. I’ve had a similar reaction to precisely that verse.

    • The Atomic Mom

      Sadly, that is the one Christmas hymn that NEVER gets sung in our ward. Makes me sad every year.