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What the Heck is Advent?!

Despite the fact that we have celebrated it for 1500 years, Advent is the most misunderstood season of the liturgical year. Epiphany is at least 300 years older than Advent and most church historians believe the period of preparation of new converts who were baptized on Epiphany eventually became Advent. Just as Lent developed over time as catechumens prepared for baptism on Easter (the oldest Christian feast), the time of fasting and preparation (forty days leading to January 6) for baptism on Epiphany became known as Advent as eventually the entire church joined in the preparation.

The misunderstanding of Advent can be cleared up with one statement. Advent is not Christmas. Advent is from the Latin ‘adventus’ or coming. It is a period of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth, but it is not the time for celebrating that event. In fact, the first few weeks of Advent focus on Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is only from December 16th that the readings and prayers of the Eucharist start to refer directly to the birth of Christ.

Traditionally, we wait until this time before we start thinking about singing Christmas carols at worship or putting up the nativity scene in the church. Remember Christmas is a 12-day feast. I know it's hard to wait because the culture is not waiting, but there is time to sing carols and to pray during the Christmas season, which does not finish until the Baptism of the Lord in mid-January.

Advent is not a mini-Lent. Advent is instead a time of devout and joyful expectation. Many parishes use blue for Advent vestments to emphasize that it is different from Lent, which is decorated with purple.

It is also important to remember that Advent is not the end of the year. For the Church Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. For the church this time of year is about a new beginning, a chance to start again with hope for the future.

It is not easy in the midst of all the contrary messages and images for the Church to be counter-cultural and be faithful to the spirit of Advent but let's make the effort!

See you in church!

Fr. Tom +



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