What is 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. The season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The church, during Advent does two things.
Look back upon Christ’s coming in celebration.
Look forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.
To balance the two elements of remembrance and anticipation, the first two Sundays in Advent (through December 16th) look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays (December 17th – 24th) look backward to remember Christ’s first coming.
The most common Advent candle tradition involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different. The four candles traditionally represent:
Hope: The inspiring and uplifting hope that Christ among us represents
Peace: Both the Prince of Peace himself and the promise of peace on Earth.
Joy: The joy the shepherds received at hearing the news of Christ’s birth, or the joy that God brings into our lives.
Love: Both God’s boundless love for us and our love for one another.
Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Some Advent wreaths include a fifth, “Christ” candle which can be lit at Christmas to celebrate the purity of Jesus and the joy felt on this day. The bright light from the candles is an expression of the growing anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, who in Christian faith is seen as the Light of the World. The circular shape of the wreath represents God’s eternity and unity.
It is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming. The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent. The season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting of Christians for Christ’s return.
Prayer is a wonderful way to help cut away from distractions of the season and open your heart to prepare for the joy and hope of Christ’s birth. Here is a sample prayer to use during the season to focus your heart and mind for the birth of Jesus Christ.
This Advent, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.
The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
When He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, “Into your darkness, God brings His Light.”
“Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call.
Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.
Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice.
Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.
This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day. Keep me close to You, Lord. It’s in Your wonderful Name I pray.
~Renee Swope, “The Manger of My Heart” from Proverbs 31 Ministries