Here we are in Advent again. It is the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What else does it mean, and why do we make changes in church during it?
Advent has long been set aside by the church as a particular season separate from Christmas. Throughout the time before Christ, as reflected in the Old Testament, people were waiting for the Messiah to come. They were waiting for His “Advent” (appearance). Once He came in flesh, the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled. Now, though, we look forward to His return “to judge the living and the dead.” He will come again. This will be His second Advent.
We celebrate Advent before Christmas in parallel with the Old Testament prophecies which looked ahead to the Messiah. Advent begins the church year, and is the only church “season” which is focused more on looking to Jesus coming in the future than the past. The few weeks before Advent, we focus on the end times and the Last Day, but we do so firmly holding His first Advent in mind. For this reason, we omit the Gloria in Excelsis from the worship service, since this is the song of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth. During Advent, we know that Jesus has come, but we sort of put ourselves in the place of the Old Testament people and look forward to His coming. So we “pretend” not to have heard the angels’ announcement yet.
The paraments for Advent are blue, which is a color of hope and expectation. One might think of the sky in which a star would shine pointing people to the birth of the Messiah so long ago. At one time, purple was used for Advent because of its connection with royalty, but blue has been used more recently to show that Advent is separate from Lent.
Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season. One focus of the Sundays in Advent is that of preparation for Jesus. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord. We also prepare our hearts to receive Him. We examine our faith and life and make ourselves ready to greet the Messiah when He comes. Though we know that He already came, we also know that He will come again, and we need to be ready for that—ready by believing and trusting Him.
We can talk about three different Advents of Jesus: historical, mystical, and final. The historical Advent describes His coming in the flesh more than 2000 years ago. The mystical Advent describes His appearance to each believer through the Word and the Sacraments. The final Advent looks ahead to His return at the Last Day.
In Advent, then, our focus is on Jesus’ return. Come, Lord Jesus!