December 15, 2014

The Evangelical’s Guide to Advent

Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published by TheBlaze. Click here to read it.

Many conservative evangelicals crusade against the War on Christmas, but we’ve neglected the equally important celebration of Advent. You pretend you’re an Advent pro or “Advent Purist” (yes! There are such people), but you truly haven’t a clue why you light the pretty wreath each week. Well, it’s time to stop pretending and start digging into what this age-old Christian tradition is all about.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. So you grew up in a non-denominational, Charismatic, or Pentecostal church where the word Advent was never mentioned. Instead, Christmas was the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday expressed through jazzed up versions of Christmas hymns and the same two children’s Christmas plays on rotation every other year.

Now you’re older. Expanding your doctrinal understanding and searching for new faith traditions of your own. Like many young evangelicals, your curiosity has been peeked by liturgical traditions and their holy reverence foreign to your early church experiences. When is Advent season? What in the world is the wreath all about? Is it even biblical?

Stay calm. Here’s what you need to know about Advent.

What’s Advent About?

In a nutshell, Advent is the preparation for the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth and also a forward-looking celebration of His Second Coming. So Advent is not Christmas. Don’t make this mistake or your Anglican colleagues will laugh at you. Trust me.

For our liturgical brothers and sisters, Advent marks the start of the Christian calendar year. For Western Christians, it begins after Sthe Sunday closest to November 30 and extends until Christmas day. For greater detail, Christ Church Anglican provides a helpful video explaining the liturgical calendar. But what is most helpful to know is Advent, like Lent, is a rhythmic ritual of fasting before feasting on Christmas.

Lighting of the Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is not just a festive decoration. Its candles represent the four weeks of Advent season. The purple candles represent either hope, peace, and love. The rose colored candle represents joy. Each week one candle is lit symbolizing the need for our spiritual preparation. Some, but not all, Advent wreaths contain a fifth white candle or “Christ’s candle” that is placed in the center of the other four. The white candle commemorates the birth of Christ and is lit on Christmas Day.

Advent Penitence and Preparation

Are your still wondering why it’s worth bothering with Advent? It’s okay to admit that you’re stuck in your holiday habits. But don’t skip straight to the goodness of Christmas carols and nativity plays just yet. If you do, then you miss the biggest and best focal point that Advent has to offer—self-examination in preparation.

Slowing down is difficult in today’s world of business. Not to mention the craziness of Christmas that now begins in October. For Christians, the four weeks of Advent are a time for fasting and penitence in preparation for the feast celebrating the Jesus Christ’s birth. As my colleague Nathaniel Torrey explained, Advent is a time to humble ourselves in remembrance of “the profound humility of Christ as he became an infant to save us.”

Evangelicals can easily identify with Advent’s traditions of penitence and preparation. By definition, we concern ourselves with the urgent need to win souls in the name of Christ before His Second Coming. This is advent. Observing Jesus Christ’s birth is not complete without preparing, watching, and rejoicing over the coming of His return.

Hurry! Go get an Advent wreath. Because evangelicals’ neglect of Advent is just as bad, if not worse, than the left’s War on Christmas.


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One Response to The Evangelical’s Guide to Advent

  1. Greg says:

    Chelsen,

    I’m not an Advent purist, but you seem to imply in this essay that Advent somehow started with the Anglicans.

    May I draw your attention to the fact that there is ample evidence that Advent was celebrated as early as the 400s A.D. Furthermore, several homilies on Advent given by Pope St Gregory the Great (reigned 590-604 A.D.) are available today. There are also ancient sacramentaries (official Church liturgical books), dating from the 6th, 7th, and 8th Centuries, that outline the number of weeks of preparation before Christmas and which readings and prayers are to be used at Mass. This was almost 1000 years before the Reformation and further break off of the Church of England.

    German Lutherans can proudly lay claim to the addition/incorporation of the Advent wreath to this liturgical season, but the season itself predates Lutheranism by at least 1000 years.

    I know you were trying to make your essay palatable to low church, evangelicals, but in the interest of ecumenism you missed an opportunity to link this growing observance among evangelicals to its pre-Reformation roots.

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