The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” The Christian Advent tradition celebrates the coming of Jesus to earth through His birth in Bethlehem. In most church calendar traditions, Advent officially begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25. (though many modern Advent calendars begin December 1).
Each of the four Sundays of the Advent is remembered through the use of particular practices. The specific practices, readings, and meaning of the candles in the Advent wreaths, if wreaths are used, may vary among churches.
For many, the first Sunday includes the lighting of a candle and readings on the theme of hope from the Old Testament. The second Sunday includes readings from the manger and prophecies about the birth of Jesus and focuses on the theme of the prophets. The third Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday (named after the first Latin word in Philippians 4:4, which is read). It focuses on joy and the theme of the shepherds. The fourth Sunday focuses on readings from the announcement of the Savior’s birth. It is also known as the angels’ candle. Many Advent candle wreaths also include a center fifth candle. This candle is known as the Christ candle that is lit during a special Christmas Eve gathering.
Is Advent biblical? The birth of Christ that is celebrated throughout Advent is based on biblical events and includes much Scripture. The actual development of the Advent season and church calendar developed much later.
As a result, a Christian should not feel required to celebrate or participate in Advent. However, the season highlights many of the notable events surrounding the birth of Jesus. It has served a very positive purpose for many throughout the history of the church. Churches of a wide variety of backgrounds continue to celebrate Advent today as part of the larger celebration of Christmas.
Even families and small groups of Christians often find joy in practicing in the traditions of Advent together. Counting the days on the calendar, reading Scripture, praying, and singing together all allow believers to further enjoy the true reason of Advent and Christmas—the coming of Jesus to our world.