Your story may be similar to mine: you grew up in a Protestant, Bible-believing church that joyfully celebrated the coming of Christ at Christmas, but you rarely, if ever, heard much reference to the season of Advent. However, as an adult, you hear more and more about Christians observing Advent by lighting candles, hanging wreaths, reading devotional guides, and singing hymns.
So why the recent increase in the popularity of this tradition in the church? What is Advent really all about, and should I, and my church, be celebrating it each year? Or is this just another hipster nod to “vintage” that will ebb and flow with the popular fashion and fads of the day?
What Is Advent?
The English word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” The Advent season begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. The celebration of Advent involves hopeful expectation as we identify with the people of Israel—as they awaited the coming of the Messiah prior to His birth, so we await the second coming of Christ in glory. It is a time of both anticipation and joy, hope and assurance, patience and promises fulfilled, desperation and deliverance. Yes, our Messiah, our Savior has come and rescued us from the eternal judgment we deserve (hallelujah!), yet we remain on this earth— fighting, struggling, and suffering—still waiting for Him to come again.
But we live in a world that says waiting is bad. Piggy banks are replaced with PayPal. Prolonged anticipation is a thing of the past. Two-day shipping is expected; anything longer is a bother. And yet we find ourselves drawn to this collective observance of . . . waiting.
So what joy is there in the waiting? When the world around us is sugar-coating cake pops, writing letters to Santa, “one-click” shopping, and singing Christmas carols beginning in the latter days of October, why do we choose to feel the longing for a coming Savior? It is because we can only desire Him as much as we understand our great need for Him.
We’re taught at a young age that saving our money for something special is better than blowing our allowance on things that satisfy temporarily. Discipline in learning a sport or a musical instrument is valued. Diligence, and not just the end result, is rewarded. Why? Because there’s something valuable about the process of waiting. Because it’s in that process that we realize there’s something valuable about the things for which we have to wait. In our anticipation, we learn patience. We measure the extent of our desires rather than act on a whim. Humans feel deeply the absence of the thing to be obtained and so we sacrifice immediate pleasures for enduring joy. We test the true value of the object of our affections and find that it’s worth the wait.
It is in the waiting that we listen alongside the Israelites, patiently and passionately, for the silence to be broken. We listen for a chorus of “Hallelujahs” to ring out, and for our Savior to come for His expectant people.
Should I (and My Church) Celebrate It?
Search the Scriptures and you will find no biblical mandate to celebrate Advent. It is not commanded of us to light candles and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” So, there is no need to overturn tables in your church designated for Christmas card distribution.
However, what you will find in Scripture is a long history of Israel’s traditions, festivals, and feasts intended to remind God’s people what He had done for them, to reflect on Who He is, and to highlight a Greater Story and promises yet to be fulfilled. Regardless of whether you or your church family chooses to celebrate Advent, or even how you choose to celebrate it, the purpose of the Advent season is to draw our attention to the coming Christ, to anticipate His return, to repent and call others to repent as the day draws near, to hope in His promises, and to find our joy in a gift that will last forever. Jesus is the only One who can satisfy our longing.
Fleeting Fad or Rich Tradition?
Christmas is a time of tradition. Some traditions span across cultures and generations; others come and go and sometimes even come again decades later. Advent’s popularity should not be associated with a passing fascination with ancient tradition and church liturgy. We shouldn’t celebrate Advent to follow a fad or impress our neighbors. We celebrate Advent to point a desperate world to the hope of a Savior. He has come and is coming again. Yes, Christian, He has already come. But He is coming again. And so we wait with hopeful expectation.
Jesus has promised us, “Surely I am coming soon.” And so this and every Advent season, we echo the response to this statement recorded in Revelation 22:20: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
This Advent season, Radical invites you to join with us as we celebrate His coming and anticipate His return by downloading our free daily reading guide for Advent called, “To Us a Son Is Given.”