I didn’t grow up hearing very much about Advent in the Evangelical Protestant churches in which I was raised. It wasn’t part of our family traditions either. If you had asked me what it was, I would have guessed that it had something to do with purple candles and a calendar. I didn’t start celebrating Advent until after my husband and I became Catholic; but once I realized its significance and purpose, it transformed the way that I prepare my heart for the Christmas season.
At first, I just thought of it as a “count-down” to Christmas that started on December 1st: “24 days to go!” But as I started learning and practicing the Advent liturgy, I realized that it was so much more. It is the time of waiting for Christmas, of anticipating the birth of the long-awaited savior. We forget, as Christians in the 21st century, how long the Jews waited for their Messiah–how many generations carried on the anticipation that one day He would come. We live in an age where we don’t have to wait that long for anything. In fact, we take for granted that Christ was born; we think of it as an event in the past that we celebrate each year.
But it’s more than just remembering the long wait of Israel; for me and you today, it is the time for our realization of how much we need a savior. We are lost; we are broken; we are wandering, homeless like Israel. Only in Christ are we found, restored, and brought home to the waiting arms of the Father. This is why we celebrate Advent. It is not just a count down to Christmas; it is a time of preparation for Christmas. We remember the groaning and waiting of the world for the Messiah. We experience our own personal groaning at the realization of our own sinful states, and we search and wait for Christ to come into our lives and restore us. In the last two years since I have started celebrating Advent, I have woken up Christmas morning with more joy than ever before. He is here! My Messiah is born! He came for me, for the whole world, to make all things new.
Perhaps, like me, you have never celebrated Advent or did not grow up in a tradition where it was prominent. If so, I invite you to start celebrating it this year. There are a lot of ways to do this. You can join in the simple tradition of lighting a candle each week, and there are many beautiful devotions and prayers in both Protestant and Catholic traditions for this season. Over the next three weeks of Advent, I will reflect on ways that this time is meaningful to me and my family. I will also share some of the ways that we are learning to celebrate our waiting for the Messiah in our home.