©Michael Krigline, MA (2008), EFLsuccess.com⇔
An introduction to traditions related to the four weeks before Christmas⇔
Today’s Christmas traditions can be grouped into two categories: a secular winter holiday (Santa, gifts, snow, Christmas tree) and a celebration of the historical birth of Jesus Christ (“Christmas” is a shortened form of the words “Christ’s mass”—with “mass” referring to a holy celebration). For some, the holiday season starts four weeks before December 25; this period is called “Advent.” One traditional Advent greeting goes like this:
“Christmas is coming! Christ has come! Christ will come again!”
The Advent season is about promise, expectation, and fulfillment. Around the globe, Christians celebrate Advent in different ways, but almost universally it involves an evergreen wreath, candles, and scripture readings on the four Sundays before Christmas.
The wreath is an ancient symbol for victory and eternity, and it was adopted by early Christians to symbolize the “fullness of time” when God’s promised Messiah (Khrīstos in Greek) was born. Never-ending, the round Advent wreath also speaks of God’s never-ending love. Ever-green branches are used to symbolize God’s ever-lasting nature, and his boundless mercy in constantly making all things new.
Advent wreaths have at least four candles, with one being lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas; some add a fifth candle to the ring (or placed in the center), to be lit on Christmas day, representing the Christ Child and the fulfillment of God’s promises. In some traditions, the first three Advent candles are purple, representing sorrow over the sin that separates Man from God, repentance that restores that relationship, and longing expectation for the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world.” The fourth candle is often pink, representing joy and hope, for Christmas is just around the corner. In other traditions, the candles are white to remind us of God’s purity, and the forgiveness we all need to enter the circle of God’s born-again family. Some people replace colored candles with white ones on Christmas, and keep lighting them until Epiphany (in honor of the wise men, on the 12th day after Christmas).
Lighting the candles is traditionally accompanied by Scripture readings. To some, the four successive weeks represent the voices of “preparation”: Jeremiah “The days are coming, says the Lord…”, John the Baptist “Prepare ye, the way of the Lord”, Mary “Be it unto me according to Your Word”, and the angels “Fear not, for behold I bring you Good News.” In other traditions, Old Testament prophecies about Jesus are read each week, prophecies that prepared God’s people for the Lord’s first Advent (the word literally means “to come”). Others mix in yet-unfulfilled prophecies as a reminder that Christ’s Second Coming is just as sure as was His first. Several websites that offer a list of readings are listed at the end of this article.
My family invites students and friends over every Sunday night in Advent to play games, create Christmas cards, or watch a movie. Each night, we pause during the fun to light a candle and read a related passage that illustrates its significance. We follow the tradition wherein the successive candles represent prophecy, the angels, the shepherds and the wise men.
Advent is a wonderful addition to your family or class Christmas celebration. The wreath and candles make a beautiful decoration, and a weekly candle-lighting ceremony (complete with Bible passages) will add balance to your celebration of winter, reminding us that Christmas originally had a much deeper meaning: Christmas is coming! Christ has come! Christ will come again!
Prayer: Prepare us, O Lord, in the weeks ahead, for the annual celebration of Jesus’ Advent—His coming into our world as the Way, the Truth and the Life. As we buy presents for our loved ones, help us again to make room for His presence in our hearts. And as we celebrate His first coming, help us to love and long for his appearing the second time, to end earth’s dark night of sin and rebellion by reigning as our rightful Prince of Peace and King of kings. Even so, come Lord Jesus! Amen.
For daily/weekly Advent readings see the ones I’ve pasted below; for other readings/information about the season, type “advent readings” in your browser; at the time of writing, I found helpful resources at these websites:
(For more information about Christmas, see these Christmas pages (underlined topics are on EFLsuccess.com or Krigline.com; others are on our older website): the traditional Christmas story, who is Santa (圣诞老人)?, candy canes, Christmas Perspectives (poem), and the pre-Christmas Advent season. Also look for Christmas wallpaper on our old website. You’ll also find movie study guides on this website (or our old site) for some great holiday films: A Snoopy/Charlie Brown Christmas, Last Holiday, White Christmas, The Grinch, Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life)
An Advent Reading Schedule
(these have all been edited so that International students can understand them better; we also ask different students to read different parts)
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:
“In those days and at that time I will appoint a king from the family of David, a Branch of righteousness; He will do what is just and right in the land.
“In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.
“For this is what the Lord says: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.’”
In addition to the prophecies about Jesus being in David’s family line, there are many other Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus, prophecies that no one could “force” to come true. To name a few, it was predicted that he would be born of a virgin, in Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22–23; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:5–6), be rejected by his own people (Isaiah 53:3; Psalm 69:8; John 1:11), be betrayed by his companion for thirty pieces of silver (Psalms 41:9; 55:12–14; Matthew 26:14–16, 21–25), be pierced and crucified with criminals (Psalms 22:16; Zechariah 12:10; Mark 15:25; John 19:34, 37; 20:25–27; Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 27:38), and be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10; Matthew 28:2–8). This abundance of predictive detail was beyond the control of any human being, and Christians believe it shows that the Bible is inspired (or “supernatural”) and that Jesus was the One whom God promised would come to save the world’s people from sin.
Adapted from Josh McDowell’s Handbook on Apologetics (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) c1991
Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. In Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the city of Nazareth in Galilee, to a virgin engaged to marry a descendent of King David whose name was Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come into her room, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when Mary saw him, she was troubled by his sayings and greeting. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Israel forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am still a virgin?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. ” Then Mary said, “Behold, I am the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Matthew 1:18-21, an angel appears to Joseph
After Jesus’ mother Mary was engaged to marry Joseph, before they came together, Mary became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was an upright and just man. He did not want to shame Mary publicly, so he decided to divorce her in secret. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to go through with your marriage to Mary your wife, for the baby who is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Now in the region around Bethlehem in Israel, shepherds were living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all people. For a Savior is born for you this day in Bethlehem, the city of David, and he is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the messenger a great number of angels, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Why are the shepherds important? If Jesus had been born as a king, common people would have never been able to gather around him. But from the moment of his birth, God made it clear (straight from the mouths of angels!) that this “good news” was supposed to bring joy to all people; this Savior was a gift for everyone, even down to the common shepherd.
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” (Micah 5:2; BC 704-696)
Now when they had departed, an angel came to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee (escape) to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Joseph took the Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until Herod died; this fulfilled a prophecy (from Hosea, 725 BC) which said, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that the wise men had deceived him, was exceedingly angry; and he sent soldiers to kill all the male children who were in and around Bethlehem, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had heard from the wise men. Then another prophecy was fulfilled, for Jeremiah (600 BC) the prophet said:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
And the Word of God became flesh and lived among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Heavenly Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness to Jesus and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” And of Jesus’ fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For God’s law and the punishment for breaking it was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.