The Advent season is a time of spiritual preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ. For 24 days we anticipate the joy of Christmas Day.
In Jesus, the Word, God became human as a vulnerable infant, born in a stable, and laid in a feeding trough (John 1:1-5, 14; Luke 2:6-7). Jesus’ mother Mary was a virgin, supernaturally impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26 – 38). Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).
But many people do not realize that the Advent season is also a time for anticipating Christ’s return to earth. The Bible says that Jesus Christ will come soaring on the clouds of the heavens surrounded by angels with the sounding of great trumpets (Matthew 24:30-31).
The History and Meaning of Advent
Advent means “coming” or “arriving” (it’s derived from the Latin word adventus and the Greek word parousia) because we’re celebrating the coming of Christ to earth. Advent readings, wreaths, music, and prayers help us appreciate the true meaning of Advent (see How to Celebrate Advent).
It’s interesting to see how the meaning of Advent has changed over the course of history.
The first records we have of Advent go back to Christians in Spain and Gaul during the 4th Century. For them, the meaning of the advent season was not connected to Christmas but to Epiphany when new Christians prepared to be baptized through fasting, confession of sins, and prayer.
It was the Romans in the 6th Century who developed the understanding of the Advent season as celebrating the coming of Christ in history, but it was his Second Coming which they had in view.
It’s only in the last 50 years that many Christians have approached the meaning of Advent as a time to appreciate the First Coming of Christ and emphasized recalling the Bible stories surrounding Jesus’ birth, like those that feature Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and sheep, and the three magi.
When Does Advent Start?
In 2021 Advent begins on Sunday, November 28. But every year you have to check when Advent starts because the exact date changes. Christians in the Western tradition start their Advent season on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. That’s called Advent Sunday and it marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year.
During the Advent season, there are four Sundays of celebration before Christmas Day on December 25th. This means that the number of days between the fourth Sunday and Christmas varies each year.
What Are Advent Calendars?
Advent calendars help you count down the 25 days of the Advent season that ends on Christmas Day. (Eastern Orthodox Christians use a different church calendar with an Advent season of 40 days.)
In the 19th Century Germans developed Advent calendars on large cards or posters with 25 little doors. Behind each door was a religious symbol. This became a popular tradition that quickly spread throughout Europe and North America.
Today Advent calendars offer treats and other surprises behind the little doors for the 25 days of Christmas. Open each day’s door and you can find a chocolate, a cookie, coffee, a little toy, or a picture of a Disney character. This is fun, but may miss the true meaning of Advent as the season to celebrate the coming of Christ and grow spiritually in your relationship with God.
Enjoy the Spiritual Blessings of Advent
While there are many ways to celebrate Advent, a great way to enjoy the spiritual blessings of Advent and Christmastime is with the Surprising Joy Advent devotionals created by Soul Shepherding. These simple and inspiring Advent devotionals help you appreciate the birth of Jesus Christ in the world and your own heart.
There are 15 Advent devotionals on attractive cards featuring contemporary art renderings of Bible characters connected to Jesus’ birth, like Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, a sheep, the magi, and a camel. Each Advent devotional card also includes a Bible verse, prayer, and question for reflection or conversation.
The Surprising Joy Advent devotionals are fun and inspiring to share with friends and family in your celebrations or as Christmas gifts!