In an era when, many say, the increasing commercialization of Christmas threatens its spiritual significance, at least one holiday seems to be taking on new meaning for some Christians.
Advent, which begins this Sunday, November 27, appears to be winning new enthusiasts among American evangelicals. The trend has been noticed in the news media at least since a USA Today article in 2008, which noted an increase in Advent readings and prayers by evangelical authors, as well as a spike in sales of Advent-related merchandise. According to a Christian-themed gifts merchandiser cited in the article, Advent’s new popularity stems from reaction against the high level of activity that has come to be part of the Christmas season; Advent is a way to “keep people focused on the spiritual promise of the Saviour coming” in what for many has become one of the most busy and stressful times of the year. More recently, Time Magazine profiled an American evangelical pastor and author of a book on Advent, arguing about the importance of the holiday as a way of “building into our framework of Christmas the confidence that God is going to come through for us.”
Derived from the Latin word adventus, or “coming,” Advent has long been celebrated by non-evangelical Western Christians as a time of double expectation: for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas and for his anticipated Second Coming at the end of time. Historically, evangelical denominations have tended to reject the traditional liturgical calendar.
No one knows when Advent originated, although it seems it existed in some form or other at least as early as the fifth century A.D., when the historian Gregory of Tours mentioned in his History of the Franks a fast declared from the Feast of St. Martin (November 11) until Christmas. Today, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and seems to have taken on a less penitential, more festive character; it is now associated mostly with Advent candles, calendars, wreathes and songs as well as special liturgy, readings, teachings and prayers.
A list of Advent resources for Canadian Anglicans can be found on the Anglican Church of Canada website. These include links to the Anglican Communion’s Global Advent Calendar; “PWRDF Advent 2015,” a reflection on Advent and food security; a Bible study for the four weeks of Advent; KAIROS Canada’s “Advent 2015,” which combines Scripture texts and the theme of migrant justice issues; “Making Room in our Hearts,” a series of Advent reflections by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine; and “Advent Wonder,” an email series.
Another source for Anglican Advent materials is Anglicans Online, which features a lengthy list of links to calendars—some of them geared to users of smartphones and social media—reflections and sources of information about Advent candles, wreathes, music and O Antiphons.
Eastern Christians celebrate a time of expectation before Christmas known as the Nativity Fast, which stretches over the 40 days before Christmas and is thought of as a time of abstinence and penance.