For many Christians, Sunday marks the beginning of the religious season known as Advent that involves spending time in spiritual preparation for remembering the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance.
In the Christian faith, many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.
The time of Advent
For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday that falls closest to Nov. 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or Dec. 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth, Sunday of Advent.
For Eastern Orthodox churches, which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on Nov. 15, and lasts 40 days rather than four weeks. Advent is also known as the Nativity Fast in Orthodox Christianity.
Advent is primarily observed in Christian denominations that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials, fasts and holy days. These churches include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian.
Today, however, more and more Protestant and evangelical Christian churches are recognizing the spiritual significance of Advent, and have begun to revive the spirit of the season through serious reflection, joyful expectation, and even through the observance of some of the traditional Advent customs.
Origins of Advent
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent began sometime after the 4th century as a time of preparation for Epiphany, and not in anticipation of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ by remembering the visit of the Wise Men and, in some traditions, the Baptism of Jesus. At this time, new Christians were baptized and received into the faith, and so the early church instituted a 40-day period of fasting and repentance.
Later, in the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great was the first to associate this season of Advent with the coming of Christ.
By the Middle Ages, the church had extended the celebration of Advent to include the coming of Christ through his birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence through the Holy Spirit. Modern-day Advent services include symbolic customs related to all three of these “advents” of Christ.
King’s Cross Church is one congregation that is putting a new spin on the traditional religious observance.
“We wanted to do something different with Advent without losing the feel of Advent,” said The Rev. Kal Busman, lead pastor at King’s Cross.
While focusing on the traditional themes of Advent such as hope, peace, joy and love, the church will also be issuing a challenge to further spread the message, according to church officials.
KCC ministry assistant Cherie Olive came up with the idea for the Advent series and said the different approach is to help individuals think “outside the box” when thinking about Advent.
“Like Lent is about the preparation for Easter, I consider Advent as an appropriation for Christmas and capturing the feeling of the season,” she said. “I began thinking about ways you can share those feelings with others.”
In the past, both Olive and Busman said the church has worked to take new approaches to traditional observances such as Advent with themes such as “Advent conspiracy” and a reverse offering that garnered a large reaction through the church.
“We referred to the theme as the $10 stories,” said Busman. “Ages fifth grade and up got $10 and were told to go out and do something with the money. Then we ask for them to report back how they spent it.”
Olive added that the response was “amazing.”
“So many shared such incredible stories about what they did with the money,” she said. “The neat thing was that all of these things were before. But the challenge allowed people to look for them. That, to me, is what we are supposed to do in worship.”
Olive said the success of the stories from the past theme is ultimately what led to the church choosing this year’s theme “The. Best. Gift. Ever.”
Topics covered will include, “expecting the gift,” “you didn’t ask for the gift but it’s exactly what you needed,” “the gift was selected with you in mind,” and “keep or return? What will you do with the gift?”
All of the topics will coincide with the four themes of Advent that include hope, peace, joy, and love,” said Busman.
Olive also decided to look to modern technology to act as a sounding board for the challenges issued in the church’s upcoming series.
“After each of the four messages, a challenge will be issued. We want people to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to tell us how they completed their task,” said Olive.
The church has also created a hash tag, #kcadvent, to thread all of the stories and experiences.
Busman added that this is a way for all ages to participate and also to “spark” continued conversation and thought about the themes long after Sunday’s sermon.
“We are excited to see how far this can go,” he added. “This is something everyone can participate in. Obviously, we would love to see this go viral and folks outside the church pick up on it, as well. This is about creating a thread of stories that we all can benefit from.”