The services during Advent are not intended to celebrate Christmas but to help each of us prepare ourselves for, and expect the coming of, Christ. The word “Advent” is a derivation of the Latin word, “advenio,” meaning coming or arrival. Early observances of this festival are recorded prior to the seventh century, and through the ensuing ages it has evolved into the form familiar to us today. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest November 30th and lasts four Sundays. The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new church year.
Advent should not be so much a time of imitating the waiting of ancient Israel as it should be a time of looking toward our own future. . .indeed the focus of the season is centered on the future. John the Baptist’s cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” sets the precedent. The Christian individual and the Christian Church are future-oriented, anticipating the fulfillment of all things in Christ. Much in the same manner that Christmas urges us to consider the second coming of Christ (the Parousia), so Advent urges us to prepare for the Kingdom of God in the Church Triumphant.
Observance of this season helps prepare us for the birth of Christ. A study of the Advent lections reveals some common words and phrases: repent, be prepared, be watchful, be awake, be patient, be faithfully expectant.
The writings of Hebrew Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi foretell the coming of one who will be great.
New Testament writers celebrated that “One” as Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. We are led through the proclamation of John the Baptist (St. Matthew 1:28; St. Mark 1:1-8; St. Luke 3:1-20, St. John 1:1-13) preparing humanity for the “coming of the Messiah.” The Annunciation narrative (St. Matthew 1:18-25, St. Luke 1:26-38;) tells the story of Mary learning that she will bear a child, the Son of God. Mary’s response to this revelation is the great hymn of praise known as the “ Magnificat.” (St. Luke 1:39-55).
In Christianity there remains a tension between the belief that with the coming of Christ, the fulfillment of God’s purpose has begun in this present world and the fulfillment is incomplete. The mysterious words from the Gospel of St. Mark, with which Jesus begins his ministry, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” have both a present and a future sense. The resolution of the “now” and “to come” is to be worked out, not so much in terms of doctrine as in terms of our own lives.
Thus, we regard Advent as a penitential season, similar to Lent. The liturgical color for Advent is purple or dark blue. As Christians, we celebrate Advent as a time for two-fold preparation: (1) to ready ourselves for the birth of Jesus Christ, and (2) to prepare for his coming again in glory to judge “both the quick and the dead” (the Parousia).
“Prepare the way of the Lord”