from the Latin adventus
For Christians, the anticipation and joy of Christmas are undisputed. The intensity of the weeks leading up to Christmas, is also something incomparable in terms of commercial activity, busy-ness and stress. Halloween leads to Thanksgiving which leads to Christmas which seems connected to New Year’s Day, a festivity on the tail’s end. In between are countless shopping trips, social outings, football games, and the like.
In the Eastern Church, Advent begins today. In the Western Church Advent begins this year on December 2, the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends before the evening of Christmas Eve.
From the 4th century this was a period of fasting which was held strictly like that of Lent. The strict observance of fasting was later relaxed in Lutheran practice. The period began in some places on November 11 (St. Martin of Tours) and so was known as “St. Martin’s Fast,” “St. Martin’s Lent,” or “the forty days of St. Martin.” Reed writes,
Advent as a season of preparation for the Nativity originated in France. Its observance was general by the time of the second Council of Tours, 567. . . It was probably not until the thirteenth century that Advent was universally recognized as beginning the Christian year, which up to that time had begun with the Festival of the Annunciation in March or, in some places, with Christmas.
(The Lutheran Liturgy, pp. 465-6)
Although strict fasting is no longer the rule and although Advent does not compare with Lent in terms of its strict emphasis on repentance, Advent remains a solemn period of repentance and purification in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Some practices during Advent include the Advent Wreath, daily readings in Scripture with prayer, the singing of the Great Antiphons (Dec. 17-24) and the use of the liturgical colors of purple, violet or blue (Sarum Rite).
With the secular pressures and the growing impact of Christmas on the heels of Thanksgiving, the season of Advent is often overlooked and neglected, if not forgotten. There seems to be no greater contrast during the year than to solemnly observe Advent when everything around us is pulling us in different directions. Through the observance of Advent the Church not only lives in contrast to the world around her, even more important, she herself is being prepared for the way of the Lord.