So what is Advent? The word "Advent" means "coming." The season of Advent has been set aside as a time of preparation leading up to Christmas for centuries. The first clear celebration of Advent was in the 6th century, but for years before, there were times of fasting and prayer similar to Advent.
Today, Advent has mostly been celebrated in the Catholic and Anglican churches, but many Protestant and Evangelical churches are recognizing the spiritual significance this season holds.
Starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. We celebrate his first coming -- as an infant-- , and anticipate his second coming -- as a King. Recognizing Advent helps to cut through the commercialization of the season, and keep our focus on Christ -- both his birth and ministry, and his promised return. As we recognize Advent, we are oft reminded that Jesus is the long-awaited, promised Messiah and Savior of the world.
Many churches include an Advent wreath in their customs or celebrations of Advent. The traditional wreath includes a circle of greenery and five candles (four for each Sunday, and then a fifth for Christmas day). The green wreath reminds us that God is eternal, without beginning or end, and also of the hope we have of new life in Christ. The candles symbolize the light of God entering our dark world, both thousands of years ago through Christ, and today through the lives of believers. Each week, a different theme is celebrated. The four most often used themes are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
You don't have to adhere to traditional customs to recognize or celebrate Advent. But you can choose to posture your heart in such a way that daily celebrates the Savior who has already come, and anticipates and longs for His coming again. Take the time this season to prepare your heart for Christ. Remember how the Israelites waited for years for the Messiah's coming. And remind yourself, daily, that Christ has come, and He will come again, to rescue and redeem.