From across the Sunday School classroom one morning, my ears perked up as I heard someone say “Advent isn’t supposed to be fun.” This person then went on to explain that Advent is a period of waiting and anticipation.
What a buzzkill, I thought.
More recently, I saw someone online compare Advent to Lent, a time of sacrifice and atonement. Some people might choose to fast or give certain things up during this time of waiting. Which means most Christmas treats are a no-go.
But Advent in my household looks more like this:
I have a three-year strong tradition of waking up early one day in November, going to a particular grocery chain and waiting in a long line for unique Advent calendars. This year I have one with tiny bottles of wine, one with coffee pods, and one with Star Wars themed Legos (after all, what is Christmas for if not enjoying being a kid again?) In addition to church Advent celebrations and Scripture reading, the little excitement each day of opening a door and pulling out a treat helps to build my joy and anticipation of Christmas.
But does that have anything to do with what Advent is really about? (Cue Charlie Brown, on the stage and exasperatedly yelling “does anyone here know what Advent is really all about??”)
What Is Advent?
Merriam-Webster defines the word advent, in a nonreligious sense, as “a coming into being or use.” We might celebrate the advent of Spring, or take historical note of the advent of the Internet age. But in a religious sense, Advent (capitalized) is the coming of Christ.
Advent for modern Christians is a time to look backwards – at the birth of Christ and the Gospel story – and forwards, to Jesus’ second coming, when He will make all things new. In that way, we can both celebrate and anticipate; we celebrate the hope we have in Christ and the salvation that baby in the manger provided. We also long for the day when we will be saved from this broken, sinful world.
When you think about it, we are in a unique situation, this now and not yet of the Kingdom of God. For all the folks in the Old Testament, they were living in a constant state of Advent, awaiting the coming of their Messiah. But us? We already have Him.
But when we look at the history of Advent, it wasn’t always associated with Christmas and Jesus’ birth. Indeed it isn’t actually a biblical concept; it’s a church tradition that has changed and evolved over the centuries.
Justin Holcomb wrote for Christianity.com “The word ‘Advent’ is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘coming,’ which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany … During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.”
However, Holcomb continues that by the Middle Ages, “the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.”
Why Do We Celebrate Advent?
Nowadays we celebrate Advent as a way to worship Christ. The Advent calendars many of us enjoy, filled with chocolates or other goodies, remind us that Jesus was our ultimate gift. And meditating on His birth at Christmas, His eventually death and resurrection at Easter, and all that means for us should turn our hearts to joy and worship. Taking time during Advent to intentionally spend time in Scripture and in a community of believers is important for us. Particularly at the Christmas season, when things so easily can become hectic and busy, it’s important for us to have these moments each day to refocus on Jesus.
But there’s no command in Scripture to do certain things at Advent; the celebration of Advent itself doesn’t even occur in the Bible. So why do it?
Like most things, it depends on the state of your heart. We can do Bible readings, and have Nativity-themed advent calendars, and go to church every Sunday of December to light the candles, but not have our hearts focused on the joy and miracle of Christmas. In that way, our “celebration” of Advent feels stale, and we probably don’t get much out of it. Christ is not glorified by joyless participation.
We can have coffee and chocolate-themed Advent calendars and take a moment each morning to thank God for these little gifts, as well as the greatest Gift, as we joyfully open that cardboard window. Sipping your festive beverage may not be the most pious celebration, but if you thank God for it and take time to prayerfully consider the season, then that is a good way to celebrate Advent.
What matters is not how we do it, but why. Are we doing “churchy” things because we think it will make us better, more holy Christians, or because we think we have to for tradition’s sake? Are we doing more secular things because they are fun and exciting, but shoving Christ to the corner of our celebrations? These are inferior ways to mark the Advent season.
This year, let’s find a happy middle ground between our religious traditions, and our Lego-themed calendars. The season shouldn’t be all boring drudgery (so many verses in the Bible, especially surrounding Christmas, are about joy!) But it also shouldn’t be focusing so much on fun and gifts that we forget to be thankful for the Greatest Gift.
Should Advent Be Fun?
Why not? Nowhere in the Bible does it say we must treat every holiday with such holy reverence that we forget to enjoy ourselves. The Bible is full of verses reminding us to eat, drink and be merry:
“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength’” (Nehemiah 8:10).
And as we remember Advent – what it meant for us when Jesus came down to earth, and what it means for us looking forward to His second coming – that should spur us to unimaginable joy!
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9)
“Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isaiah 12:6).
Ultimately, I believe your personal Advent celebrations are up to you. If you feel led to fast and pray before Christmas, do so. If not, that is fine too. The ways I choose to prepare my heart and home for Christmas will look different than a brother or sister in Christ’s, and that’s ok!
My final thought on this question – should Advent be fun – is this: Love God. Worship Him with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. And then go do what you want. If your heart is aligned with the things of God, then you are free to celebrate and have fun this season in whichever way seems best to you!
For me, that’s coffee and Legos.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tetiana Soares
Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study Tools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.