Someone asks what Advent means in the Christian calendar, where it is found in the Bible, and whether Christians ought to observe it.
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Within 300-400 years after Christ, many Christians set aside an Advent season as a time for fasting, reflection and penitence to prepare for Epiphany, a day celebrating Christ’s “epiphany” or appearance to the Wise Men (in the Western church) or his baptism (in the Eastern church). With the evolution of Christmas as a special day on December 25, the focus of Advent gradually moved from Epiphany to the “coming” (adventus in Latin) of Christ at his birth.
Advent later came to symbolize anticipation for Christ’s second coming also, and the Western church dropped fasting during Advent. The season of Advent, which Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants begin on the Sunday nearest November 30, includes four Sundays and ends on Christmas Eve. (Eastern Orthodox have a longer, more solemn Advent season.) Many churches and homes now mark this season with wreaths, candles, special colors and religious calendars. It is a time for anticipating Christmas as the celebration of Jesus’ birth, for anticipating his coming anew into our own hearts, and for anticipating his coming again in person and in power at the End.
The word “Advent” does not appear in the English Bible, but the idea behind that word — the “coming” of the Messiah — runs through both Old and New Testaments. Luke tells of Simeon and Anna who eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah, and who joyfully recognized him in the infant Jesus (Luke 2:25-38). The apostle Paul describes Christians as people who now eagerly await Christ’s second coming (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 4:8). Since neither Jesus nor his apostles specifically commanded Advent (or Christmas or Easter), Christians cannot be faulted who choose not to observe these religious holidays. But neither is there any harm in using these special occasions to remember and to celebrate the important events which are certainly at the heart of our Christian faith (Rom. 14:5-6).