Advent is derived from a word that means coming; that makes sense because we are taking time to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ. But there is more to the story of Advent. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was a season used to prepare for the baptism of new Christians during the feast of the Epiphany, Jesus baptism in the Jordan River and his first miracle that he performed at the wedding in Cana. It was a forty day period of penance, prayer and fasting. There was very little connection between the season of Advent and Christmas.
By the mid-6th century, Roman Christians began to tie Advent to the coming of Christ. But it wasn’t necessarily Christ’s birth but rather the anticipation of his second coming. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Advent began to look more like the season that we celebrate today. Today Advent is a balance between remembrance and anticipation. The first two Sundays of Advent look forward to Christ’s second coming and the last two Sundays look backward to remember Christ’s first coming.
In the midst of the holiday preparations and celebrations it is difficult to keep in mind that while Advent is a time for celebration and anticipation, it is more than that. To help us understand Karl Barth wrote these words: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promises are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promises and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.