It’s Advent season. But do we know what it is? What is Advent is about? For instance, do we realize that the first Advent has come and gone, and now we’re waiting for the second Advent? And after we do know, are we really ready for the second coming of Jesus? It will come. And whether we’re still alive for it or not, it matters to all of us.
It was weird looking for an image for Advent. Most of the pictures had something to do with Christmas, which is sort of right, but from a secular point of view. There were lots of Christmas trees, snow scenes, ornaments, and the like. But very few like the one I finally chose.
If that’s the prevailing thinking on what Advent is all about, we Christians don’t seem to be having a lot of success letting the world know the realities of Advent. Or is it that we don’t really know either?
As I said, it matters, how can we be ready for the second coming of Jesus if we don’t even know what Advent is?
With that in mind, let’s learn something, or refresh our memories, about Advent.
Some cultural history to answer – what is Advent about?
Advent hasn’t always been what it is today. Christianity Today has a good summary of how Advent has changed through the years. I believe a subscription is needed to read the entire article, so I’m including the historical portion of it here.
Some people may know that Advent serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. That’s only part of the story.
“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Quotes like that are one reason why I love to write. It’s not like I think I’m close to knowing a whole lot, let alone everything about God. Who can? And yet, one like this is so obvious that I wonder why it seems so shocking to read it as I do my research.
Do you remember the Beatitudes? How about just the first one? Of course, I need to include all of them. It’s about context. But it’s number one that we’re concerned with today.
5:3-12 pp — Lk 6:20-23
Mt 5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying:
Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Mt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Mt 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Beatitudes are like Jesus’ core teaching. We start at number one, being poor in spirit. And then we, pretty much, progress through them. Each builds on the prior one. And as we grow in faith, we continue to cycle through them, moving deeper into the list and having a better understanding of the earlier ones. Synergy, not only by cycling through Jesus’ teachings, learning and applying them, but growing with the Holy Spirit at the same time.
And so, reading “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come” seems like it should be a given. And yet, it was like an “Aha” moment when I read it.
Not only that, but this thought has great implications for all of us who consider ourselves to be Christians. Followers of Christ. We must learn, study, and practice the Beatitudes as part of our life. And we should celebrate Advent – in its full meaning. But do we make the connection between the two? I’ve answered for myself. How about you?
For a more detailed look at the Beatitudes, I invite you to check out the series The Beatitudes.
“God of hope, I look to you with an open heart and yearning spirit. During this Advent season, I will keep alert and awake, listening for your word and keeping to your precepts. My hope is in you.” ~ Matthew Kelly
Prayer to God – a two-way conversation with God. After all, when we ask God for something, how can we know the answer unless we listen? For more on Prayer as a two-way conversation with God, please check out This then is how you should pray…, which is part of a series on The Lord’s Prayer.
What Is Advent? History & Meaning
For many Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical year, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. Some people may know that the Advent season focuses on expectation and think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but there’s more to Advent.
As the series progresses, we will look deeper into both aspects of the meaning behind Advent.
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
I’d love to be able to say that’s the reason I didn’t make the connection between the Beatitudes and Christmas. However, while I may not qualify as young anymore, I’m not that old. But seriously, it is interesting to see how, as a people, we grow in knowledge and faith – just like we do as individuals.
The thing we really need help with though, is to be sure that “growth” really is growth and not regression. That we don’t move backwards and come up with knowledge that’s false / flat out wrong. So, as we move through the series, we’ll tie all this together with passages from the Bible to do just that.
By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Again, as mentioned, we will tie up this concept of Advent, using both Old and New Testament passages.
Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis, they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.
So that’s what we have today. As it should be, New Testament events based on Old Testament prophecy. And a need to tie the two together correctly, understanding both the meanings of the original language words and the cultural differences between then and now.
Below are the themes of the four weeks of Advent, as it’s celebrated in most, but not all, Christian churches. Since mine is one that uses the four-week format, that’s what I’m writing about.
Advent readings are themed Scripture readings for each Sunday of Advent. The four weeks of Advent are broken down into the themes:
- Hope (or promise
- Preparation (waiting or prophecy)
- Joy (peace)
- Love (adoration)
One of the beautiful things about the Advent readings above is that they offer churches the opportunity to include both young and old into their services, and the same can be true of private family devotions around the Advent wreath as well. By this point, you’ve probably realized that there is no set criteria for who should read the Advent readings in church. In some denominations, the lead pastor or worship leader may read the Advent reading, as a way of leading the congregation in worship.
There is a link in the Christianity Today article to some Advent readings and devotions. Here’s the information if you’d like to get them:
Get your FREE copy of 25 Days of Advent Devotionals and Readings! Print these and share them with family and friends to keep your mind’s attention and heart’s affection on Jesus this holiday season. Click here.
Some Biblical history about Advent
First off, if you search an electronic Bible for the word Advent, you won’t find it. That’s kind of a problem for those of you who mostly read the Bible but rarely, if ever go to church. For those who attend pretty much only for Easter and Christmas, yes, you’ve probably heard the word Advent, but only for the Christmas service. But that leaves out all the events that led to the actual birth of Jesus. And you may or may not know there’s a second Advent coming.
Conclusion – what is Advent about?
Here’s some info on the format I’m going to use to write this series. What follows isn’t at all a comprehensive look at Bible prophecy about the birth of Jesus. It’s from Nelson’s quick reference topical Bible index. That’s what we’ll use for our brief look at the two Advents, and how they relate to each other. From there, we’ll get into why they’re important to us today.
|1st or 2nd Advent||Prophecy subject||Verses|
|Prophesied||Deut. 18:18, 19;
|Came as man||Phil. 2:5–8|
|Time predicted||Dan. 9:25|
|To save the lost||Matt. 18:11|
|Subject to government||Matt. 17:24–27|
1 Thess. 4:16
|Come as God||1 Thess. 4:16|
|As a thief||1 Thess. 5:2|
|At a time unknown||Matt. 24:36|
|To judge the lost||Matt. 25:31–33, 41–46|
|Source of government||Rev. 20:4–6; Rev. 22:3–5|
As the series progresses, for each of the reference verses above, I will include the entire passage for context, and underline the specific verses in each of them.
Hope to see you in the next installment of this series, where we look at Old Testament prophecy on the first coming of Jesus.