Adventus Redemptoris: the coming of the Savior. Now called Advent, these four weeks preceding Christmas Day are some of the most joyful in the Christian year. The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year, in fact. These days leading up to Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure in Christianity, are days of preparation and expectation.
Adventus is Latin for "coming" and is the exact parallel to the Greek parouisa, which implies the Second Coming of Christ. Advent, then, reminds Christians of the Great Mystery: "Christ was born. Christ has risen. Christ will come again." Christians celebrate this time of expectation with special services, music and other reminders of a Church pausing to wait yet again for the birth of her Savior.
One of the oldest Advent hymns, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," dates from early centuries and is a perennial favorite, with its themes of light overcoming darkness and captives set free. These are major themes in Advent. Christians see the birth of Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, so the season is commemorated with candles and scriptures from the Old Testament messianic prophecies.
Christians celebrate their liturgical seasons with colors, and the color of Advent is purple or royal blue, symbolizing the birth of a king. Churches use paraments, or altar cloths, in these colors, as well. Churches also decorate for Advent, often with a Chrismon tree hung with Christian symbols, an Advent wreath, greenery and poinsettias. Children come to the fore in these days, with Christmas programs, Nativity scenes and Christmas parties.
In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, fasting is common, at least for a short time, to foster a sense of expectation and joyful solemnity during this time. This sense is what makes Advent so special to Christians. In the middle of the madness surrounding this time of year, Christians are called to be still and remember how the Lord of all creation put on flesh and was born a human baby in a stable in a backwater town in ancient Palestine.
The secular world may be caught up in the craziness of the "holiday season," but those celebrating Advent can come to a place of peace and quiet preparation.