In many Protestant churches – particularly those who don’t closely follow the rhythm of the traditional liturgical calendar – Advent has faded into the background, and the gap of silence between All Hallow’s Eve and Christmas Eve is filled only with the red and green consumerism that fills store shelves from November 1. But this tradition is rich with meaning and beauty that serves to enhance the significance of not only the coming that it looks back on, but also the future coming to which it points.
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (in 2015, this is November 29) and is a season of anticipation and celebration; a time to reflect on every good thing that God has already done for us in sending Jesus. Amidst the chaos of Christmas shopping and the preparations of party planning, Advent is a time to engage in a particularly counter-cultural spiritual discipline: waiting. For the four weeks that lead up to December 25, Advent is a season for patient waiting, hopeful expectation, and joining with God’s people in longing for the coming of God’s salvation in Jesus. That’s what Advent means – coming.
Christians throughout Church history have celebrated Advent in different ways; lighting candles, marking off days with Advent calendars, or simply meditating on the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospels. Whatever the means, we can all agree that the celebration from Christmas Eve through to the conclusion of Christmas Day is far too short a period to spend in joyful adoration of the coming of the saviour of the world. So this Advent season, why not find a way in which you (and your family) can take the journey with the magi towards the royal manger. Set aside your regular dinner-time devotion and consider the biblical texts that tell the story of the birth of Christ. Or join with me as I meditate on the daily readings in John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy (available for purchase online, or a free PDF download).
As believers we look back, but we also look forward. I love the way that Advent meditations allow us to look back and rejoice, “Christ has come!” while also encouraging us to look forward in joyful expectation: “Christ will come again!”. Whether that night in Bethlehem or where we find ourselves today, Advent reminds us that the darkness of waiting has been replaced with Jesus, the Light of the World.