The word 'advent' is Latin for 'coming or arrival'. Advent is a season of preparation in which we thank God for choosing to come into the world as one of us. But Advent is not just a time of looking forward to the birth of Jesus – it’s a time of preparing for His second coming. In the ancient hymn we sing, “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel.” We’re praying that Christ comes to us again.
The Season of Advent, as we know it, first came out of France. During the fourth century the monks began to look on the six weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of penance. At the same time in Rome there developed a tradition of a three week period of fasting and joyful prayers preceding the Feast of Christmas.
Pope Gregory the Great set the current length in the sixth century, but it took another four hundred years before the French penitential prayers and the Roman joyful prayers melded into the season we now know.
But Advent has fallen on hard times. For most people, it’s become a time to get ready for whatever they’re doing with family and friends during what has become known as the “Christmas Season.” It seems to no longer be a time to get ready for the coming of Christ. The bigger Christmas has become, the more it has swallowed up Advent.
The main problem with this is not that Christmas has intruded on Advent, but that the commercial season of Christmas has shifted our focus away from Christ. It has diverted our senses from the fact that we wait for Christ to come again.
For many of us the commercial Christmas season has become a mad-rush of shopping and parties, wrapping and decorating, baking and shipping. These have replaced the nature of Advent with frustration and anxiety. Many people have expressed a concern that because of the sour economy Christmas won’t be very joyful this year. But that misses the point of both Advent and Christmas. As those who await the coming of Christ, we understand that the next four weeks are a time to think about others and prepare for Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”