7 Quick Facts about Advent

1. Advent is the start of the (Western) Christian year, and begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The word comes from the Latin word adventus—a translation of the Greek word parousia, which means coming. The season of Advent encourages the church to look back and remember the birth of Christ, while looking forward in anticipation to the second coming of Jesus.

2. The Bible itself doesn’t mention nor prescribe the season of Advent, but several theological themes are present in Scripture that encourage us to observe the season: A deep anticipation for God to redeem the entire world (Isaiah 7:14; 2:2-4); A longing for God’s justice (Amost 5:24); John the Baptist’s proclamation of the coming Messiah (Mark 1:1-7); the expected return of Jesus to consummate his kingdom (Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8, 9; James 5:7, 8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28).

3. The Synod of Saragossa in 380 AD declared that Christians should use the week before Christmas to be present in church meetings and to prepare, spiritually, for Christmas. Saint Gregory of Tours (490 AD) advised monks to prepare for Christmas: “they should observe fasting everyday during the month of December, up to Christmas day” (Canon 17, Council of Tours). Finally, the Council of Tours (563 AD), the Council of Mâcon (581 AD), Pope Gregory the Great (read his sermon here), and Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085 AD) helped solidify Advent as a liturgical celebration for the Christian year.

4. The liturgical color for Advent in the Western church is purple, while in the Eastern church it is red. The Eastern Orthodox church observes a more solemn Advent season called Feast of the Nativity (or Saint Philipp’s Fast), beginning 40 days before Christmas. Its emphasis on fasting—with the exception of feast days—makes it closer to Lent in its orientation.

5. Few traditional hymns are oriented around Advent themes. Some of them include: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus”; “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”; “Joy to the World.” Find a more complete Advent playlist here.

6. The Advent wreath likely has its origins in northern European Yule traditions, and was Christianized around the 16th century in Germany. The modern practice of lighting candles is credited to German theologian-pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern in the mid 19th century, who lit candles to answer the persistent questions of children on whether Christmas had arrived yet (Mary Jane Haemig, “The Origin and Spread of the Advent Wreath,” Lutheran Quarterly). The tradition didn’t reach North American until the early-mid 20th century.

7. The beloved Advent calendars can be found in several remarkable, pop-culture editions: Lego Advent Calendar; The President Obama White House Advent Calendar; Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar; The Hellbrunn Palace in Austria; Peanuts Advent Calendar.

See more on Advent here: [WATCH] John Oswalt explains the biblical basis of Advent; [WATCH] Michael Pasquarello III introduces Advent as a liturgical celebration; [READ] Andrew Dragos highlights seven major Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfills; [READ] J. D. Walt advises us to prepare for preparing for Advent; [READ] Christopher Peters explains the gift of the church calendar; [READ] Drew Causey shares 11 songs to add to your Advent playlist; [BUY] J. D. Walt wrote a different kind of Advent reader—one with Scripture, commentary, and poetry.

Read more from our Seven Quick Facts series.

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