The period of Advent signifies the coming of Jesus, the Messiah into the world. The period itself is usually marked by the four Sundays that lead up to the day of Christmas, and this time is used to minister and teach, to remember the real meaning behind the celebration of Christmas as well as the significance of this day to the human race.
The Relevance and meaning of the ‘coming of Jesus’
Advent describes the coming of Christ in three main ways
- First is the coming of Christ to live as and among men, to minister to us as God’s messenger, and most importantly to die on the cross for our sins. This is the first and most important definition as it shows how it all began, how God gave up everything, His own son’s life so that we as humans, sinful and frail, may be forgiven and have everlasting life
- The second definition depicts the present. This is evident in the way we commemorate his life, how we take communion to bring us closer to Him, and how he lives within us every day.
- The last definition depicts Jesus as a man, as a judge who will come in future, a King coming back to take his followers into heaven and to judge those who did not believe in his word and testimony.
Advent dates back to the 1st century, and although no one knows the exact date or year of the first celebration, it is estimated that it was around this time when monks of the time fasted for some period before Christmas.
Similar to the cultural practices, the Advent calendar differs depending on the place you are in. Although many countries use candles, there are some that have specific calendars for this time of the year. Here are a few examples
- The Protestants in Eastern Europe in the 19th century started off by marking dates using lines on a door with chalk. They marked from the 1st to the 24th and erased one line each day until Christmas. They then graduated to paper calendars in the 20th century, but this practice was halted during the World War because the supply of cardboard became scarce
- The U.K made little windows made of paper or card. The little windows were distributed into 24/25 for each day of December leading up to Christmas. This was also a common practice in the USA where they also had little pictures of Christmas on each window to add a little life to the process.
- Other countries lit a candle a day from the beginning of advent to Christmas day, a practice that has since been adopted the world over.
Fasting during advent is a common practice, although it is mostly a voluntary practice, many people use it as a means to help them concentrate in prayer as they prepare to celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ coming. Other cultures just desist from certain types of food during this period, for example, some Christians have days when they don’t eat fish or drink wine, while others don’t ingest dairy products during the Advent period.
It is also a common practice in some parts of the world for Christians not to eat meat during advent, although this practice is a little subjective due to the fact that to some it’s for the entire period, while for some it is for specific days on the Advent calendar.
Lighting the candle
Irish Catholics during the age of oppression and persecution by the British in the 11th -12th century lit candles during this period leading up to Christmas. This signified that they were waiting for any priest to come and give them communion, and in exchange, they would offer food and accommodation for the night. This happened in a period when the British were trying to crush the Catholic faith through torture and death.
The significance of Advent Candles
Lighting candles has been a Christian practice for millennia. Past Christians in past civilizations who were persecuted for their faith used candles as a secret code, especially during the Christmas period to identify other people who shared in their faith despite persecution and subjugation. During Advent, and based on previous traditions, the lit candles were signs of various Christian teachings. Know more about the tradition of advent at www.holyart.co.uk
- A candle lit on the first Sunday of the advent calendar was used to represent the prophet Isaiah, as well as a list of other prophets who predicted the coming of the Messiah, the prince of peace, the King of Kings. This candle acted as a representation of appreciation of these prophets who did God’s work of paving the way for Jesus.
- The second candle represented God’s word-The Bible. All the teachings and lessons, the instructions and condemnation, the salvation and tribulation. Everything that God’s people had to endure.
- The third candle represented Mary the mother of Jesus.
- The fourth candle was used to appreciate the work of John the Baptist, the man whose work was to pave the way for the coming of the Messiah, and the man who had the privilege of baptizing Jesus Christ.
- The last and most important candle is lit on Christmas day, or in some countries, it is lit on Christmas Eve. This candle is lit separately from the rest, and it signifies the light of the world, Jesus Christ.
Practices during the Advent period vary. In some, a different candle is lit every day from the first of December through to Christmas Eve. While in other cultures, only one candle is lit throughout the entire period. This single candle has markings on it, lines; 24 to be precise. Each day, the candle is burnt down to the next line until Christmas day.
The tradition of Advent was put in place mostly to ensure that future Christians don’t get carried away with the festivities and merrymaking and forget the real meaning of Christmas and why it is celebrated. This period is meant to give perspective, and to ensure that the real reason why people commemorate Christmas is not lost in translation.