The word "advent," from the Latin adventus (Greek parousia), means "coming" or "arrival." The Advent Season is focused on the "coming" of Jesus as Messiah (Christ or King). Christian worship, Bible readings, and prayers not only prepare us spiritually for Christmas (his first coming), but also for his eventual second coming. This is why the Bible readings during Advent include both Old Testament passages related to the expected Messiah, and New Testament passages concerning Jesus' second coming as judge of all. Also, passages about John the Baptizer the forerunner who prepared the way for the Messiah, are read. All of these themes are present in Liturgical worship during Advent.
When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: "He must increase, but I must decrease".
Since Advent looks forward to Christ's birth and Incarnation, it is an appropriate way to begin the Church Year. However, Advent is not part of the Christmas season itself, but a preparation for it. Therefore, Christmas hymns and readings are generally not part of the service, until December 25th. (At our congregation we do sing Christmas hymns on Christmas Eve..
For us Christmas Day begins the season of Christmas. The liturgical church never celebrates Christmas as an isolated day, but a festival of the Incarnation (The Eternally begotten Son of God becoming flesh). Lasting through Epiphany when we remember the Gentiles coming to worship the new born King which occurred sometime later. Frankly, Christmas is only properly understood after having the preparation provided by Advent. In the midst of the secular excesses leading up to Christmas, Advent provides a welcome solace and an opportunity to continually re-focus ourselves to God's will as we expectantly wait with patriarchs, prophets, and kings for the true meaning of Christmas: the Incarnation of God the Son.
The first clear reference to a celebration of Advent occurs in the 6th century. Prior to this time, there were celebrations and fasts resembling our current Advent season. The Western Church eventually settled on 4 Sundays of Advent, which has the season beginning at the very end of November or the very beginning of December. Until the 12th century, Advent had a more festive tone, and white vestments were still occasionally used. However, Advent became more closely related to Lent as Christ's second coming became more and more a prominent Advent theme, During the Reformation, some Protestants de-emphasized many Christian holy days and seasons, disconnecting their churches from the rhythms of the Church Year. However, the Lutheran Church retained Advent. Possibly because of a move to the liturgy or maybe as a reaction to the excesses of secular Christmas values,
Celebrating Advent has of late become more popular in other denominations.
The following are emphasized on the Sundays in Advent:
The First Sunday in Advent Jesus explains that no one knows the time of the Second Coming, therefore we should always be prepared. The Second Sunday in Advent John the Baptizer preaches repentance to prepare for the coming of the Lord. The Third Sunday in Advent John explains repentance and that he is not the Messiah. The Fourth Sunday in Advent Gabriel explains to Mary that even though she is a virgin, she will give birth to the Son of God and she goes to Elizabeth and expresses her joy (the passage known as the Magnificat).