In the last months of the year, many people in the West seem to buy Advent calendars – filled with chocolate, little toys, or other little presents. Apparently, there is some Christian tradition behind these calendars. But what is it exactly? Has it anything to do with Christmas?
Advent is a time of expectant waiting
On December 25th, the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated. This feast of Christmas is preceded by a period called Advent. The term “Advent” is derived from the Latin word “Adventus”, and literally means “coming”. This period is a time of expectant waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ. Depending on the church tradition one is following, the period of Advent commences 4 or 6 weeks before Christmas.
First and second coming
Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but also a season of waiting for his return at his second coming. Then Jesus did not just become human in order to save humanity; when He ascended into heaven He also promised to come back to judge humanity and to establish his kingdom.
See for example Matthew 24:30-31: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”. Both of Jesus’ comings, the first one at Christmas and the second one we are waiting for, are remembered and meditated upon in the season of Advent.
Jesus’ coming in our hearts
There is a third “coming” of Jesus Christ upon which Christians especially reflect in this period of the year. This is the coming of Jesus in our hearts. For only if we let Him dwell in us, can we profit from his salvation work and will we be safe from his judgment.
That is what Paul is praying for in Ephesians 3:14-19: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”.
There are several practices associated with Advent, like lighting candles (one for each week, leading up to Christmas) or having daily devotionals counting down to Christmas. This is where Advent calendars come from. Originally, these featured some Christmas-related theme and had “windows” for each day of Advent. Each window contained a Bible verse or prayer, and so the Advent calendar would lead one through this season and help to reflect upon Jesus’ coming.
Commercial Advent calendars
Nowadays, some Advent calendars are still doing that, and can be a great way to consciously celebrate the period of Advent. But there are also many Advent calendars that have completely lost the Christian message and just offer a colorful scene filled with chocolate, little toys or similar. These calendars thus don’t have anything to do with Christmas, they are just a commercial adaptation of a rich, centuries-old tradition.
Reading through Advent
If you are interested in celebrating Advent in a Christian way, you could do so with help of an Advent calendar, or just a reading plan aimed at Christmas. See for example:
If this seems like too much for you, just focus on the Christmas stories in the Gospels:
Have a blessed Advent!