When you make the decision to preach an Advent sermon series for Christmas, it is important to communicate in your preaching the history of Advent, what actually is – and what it is not. If you’ve ever taken your church through Advent, familiarity with the tradition, lighting of candles, and scripture reading makes this season more traditional. Yet, there will always be a collection of attendees who have never heard of Advent and, for them, this is the first time they’ve ever been exposed to this seasonal observance.
Preaching the meaning of Advent doesn’t have to sabotage your sermon series – but it should make an appearance throughout the duration of your series. When you are intentional about communicating what Advent is, you open the door for new believers, non-believers, and long-time believers to discover a greater significance in the tradition and also connect with the bigger story of the Church and Christmas.
The team at Ministry Pass has researched some of the more significant truths about Advent for you to consider as you create your Advent sermon series outline for this year.
The Meaning of the Word Advent and Its Origins
Advent in its simplest form means “coming.”
The word Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” which was translated from the Greek word “parousia” – which means “coming.” This where we get the simple translation. Parousia was used to describe both Jesus’ first coming at His birth and His second coming.
While many celebrate Advent as the coming of Jesus to earth, being born of the Virgin Mary, historically, Advent is divided into two unique focuses.
Because “parousia” celebrates both Jesus’ first and second arrivals on earth, Advent was divided into two celebrations. The first two weeks celebrated the promise of the Second Coming of Jesus. The second two weeks shifted focus to the coming of Jesus as a baby, born in a manger.
It is important for Christians to know that Advent is as much about looking into the past and remembering the moment of Christs’ birth as it is about looking forward to His return, calling believers to anticipate, look forward, and ready themselves.
Advent is as much about looking into the past and remembering the moment of Christs’ birth as it is about looking forward to His return.
Advent Spotted at the Council of Saragossa
We don’t have many details about the beginnings of Advent. Much of the history begins around the 4th and 5th centuries. However, there is one place in particular where we see Advent specifically discussed and that was at the Council of Saragossa in 380 AD.
The council seems to be held in response to Priscillianism, a Gnostic, anti-physical heresy around at that time. In response to this heresy, it made sense that Christians would celebrate the coming of God in human flesh. Whether that is true or not, we don’t ultimately know, but there seems to be a strong connection.
This Council was not the creation of Advent, but merely the doubling down on Christians’ current beliefs that God became flesh in the form of Jesus and lived among us. As a result, the Council encouraged Christians to attend church every day from December 17-29.
When Did Christians Begin Celebrating Advent?
Looking into the history of the Church, we discover that celebration and worship during the time of Advent came about around the 8th and 9th centuries. The old hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” was written more than 1200 years ago and has a direct connection to the celebration of Advent.
Beginning a week before Christmas, different lines of the hymn would be sung each day as a way for Christians to prepare for Christmas. The intensity would build until finally on Christmas Eve, the line of “O, come Emmanuel,” was sung as the entire hymn was brought to a conclusion on the night celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Leaning into the history of Advent is one way to help cast a bigger vision for Christmas and influence how the members of your church celebrate Christmas.
This hymn calls to mind the language of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 – “See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’” [Matthew 1:23 HCSB] You can read more regarding the history of this hymn here.
The members of your congregation are each a part of their own unique family traditions – leaning into the history of unity that Advent inspired is one way to help cast a bigger vision for Christmas and influence how they celebrate.
Should you decide to take a musical angle to preaching Advent, you can find Advent albums within the classical music genre. For instance, “Advent at St. Paul’s” and “Bach: Advent Cantatas,” are available.
Helping Your Church Understand Why Advent Isn’t Found In Scripture
One unique reality of Advent is that the formal celebration isn’t found in Scripture. God doesn’t command us to observe Christmas and the first coming of Jesus in a specific way. However, throughout Scripture God gives His people moments and opportunities to reflect.
The formal celebration of Advent isn’t found in Scripture.
For instance, when He tells Joshua to build an altar to remember what God had done at the crossing of the Jordan, it was an opportunity for the people of God to pause, reflect, and worship the God who had sustained and provided for them.
We still need moments like that today. In other words, we need Advent.
We need Advent as a stake in the ground moment that refocuses our hearts and minds on King Jesus. Moments that draw us into the rich history of our faith and connect us to millions of other believers. Celebrations that connect us back to the very core of what it is that separates Christianity from all other world religions.
Advent is a nearly 1600-year-old celebration of the Christian faith that each year has helped millions of Christians worldwide, reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ (His first coming) and to look forward to the day when He will return and restore all things as they are in heaven (His second coming).
Celebrating Advent Today
As Advent takes different shapes throughout history and through different denominational backgrounds, it still stands as an extremely important time in the Christian calendar. The point is to redirect Christians’ minds away from the consumerism so often associated with Christmas and onto the One who came and will come again.
Catholics and Protestants alike will worship to the same songs and begin to prepare their hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This is one time of year when no matter your denominational background, you can find common ground with other believers from different faith traditions.
Over the years, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Orthodox, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians have all traditionally observed Advent. Many other Protestant and Evangelical Christians are coming back to some Advent practices as they see the need for the correct focus on Christ during the season.
Whether your church decides to set aside time to observe Advent, many in your congregation will observe Advent in their homes as a way to help their families stay focused on Christ during the Christmas season. Churches and Christian families will decorate with things like the Advent wreath, lighting candles as Christmas approaches. Some will opt to not decorate with the traditional red and green colors of Christmas, but will go with historic purple, pink and white. Each of these have a specific meaning and connection to the Advent season.
Preaching the History of Advent
Whether you are preaching an Advent sermon series this Christmas or are creating your own unique Christmas sermon series outline, the historical tradition of Advent will be celebrated. You have a unique opportunity this year, and every year, to educate your congregation on the truth behind this celebration, what it is, what it isn’t and why it matters for believers today.
Teaching your people can be done through a sermon series, a small 5-minute candle-lighting ceremony during your service, or by sharing resources via your church email newsletter or on social media.
Regardless of how you choose to observe Advent as a church, the re-emergence of this tradition in popular culture is a very natural and easy way to enter into a narrative that is happening outside your church walls and in the homes and hearts of those whom God loves.