What is Advent?
Advent is the liturgical season that precedes and prepares for Christmas. It is a season of hope and of longing, of joyful expectation and of peaceful preparation.
Sunday, December 1, 2013, is the first day of Advent. Advent is a season in the Christian year that lasts for about four weeks. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. In our celebration of Christmas, the Christmas season (or holiday season) begins in the weeks prior to Christmas day. Generally, this season starts in early December, though retailers generally begin Christmas in November (or even earlier), so Advent overlaps with what is usually thought of in our culture as the Christmas season.
What is Christmas?
The Christian season of Christmas actually begins on Christmas Eve for twelve days, ending on January 6. The time before Christmas is Advent, a second of preparation for Christmas. Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. In Advent we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savior’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” In the season with this name, we keep in mind both “advents” of Christ, the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come.
If you’re unfamiliar with Advent, it may feel odd to think of the weeks before Christmas as something more than Christmastime. Many people love Christmas as it celebrates the birth of Jesus, but mostly because it is a giant party with lots of presents. The Christian observance of Advent has a much more serious purpose. It’s meant to get us ready, not for a present-opening party, but for a transformational celebration of the birth of Jesus.
There are a few other things about Advent that you might find odd if you’re unfamiliar with the season. The strangest might be the Advent color scheme. We associate Christmas and the weeks leading up to it with typical Christmas colors: red, green, white, silver, and gold. Advent, on the other hand, features purple (or dark blue) and pink. The purple/blue color signifies seriousness, repentance, and royalty. Pink signifies joy. For may observers of Advent, the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent are “purple/blue” Sundays. Only the third is a “pink” Sunday. The pink, joyful color reminds us that even as Advent helps us get in touch with our sober yearning for God to come to us, we know that he did in fact come in the person of Jesus.