Advent ends after 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 24.
But what is it to begin with? How long is it? And what does it have to do with Christmas?
Two Chattanooga pastors, one Catholic and the other Protestant, briefly explain.
Father David Carter, rector and pastor of the Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul, said Advent comes from a Latin word to mean “the coming.” It’s a period of waiting and anticipation for what has happened and what will happen, he said.
“You get yourself ready,” Carter said. “Advent is a time of hope and expectation. We listen to the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus that announce that a messiah would be coming, and we trace the lines to see the fulfillment of these prophecies in Jesus Christ.”
He said that Christians look back and anticipate the birth of Christ, as if for the first time. Carter compared Advent’s time of preparation to an occasion to meet the president.
“What would you do to prepare?” Carter asked.
Each week typically has a significance and focus-like hope or “Jesus as the light”-and different Protestant traditions might highlight various aspects, Picket said.
“[Regardless of variances], the idea of Advent focuses on all the predictions of that coming,” Picket said. “We do readings that will guide [our congregations] into the ideas about Advent: who Jesus is, the predictions [leading up to] what he would do for them and the work he will do for them.”
Christians look at all this in hindsight, Picket said. But there is an element of stripping off all the ideas and looking at how Jesus of the Bible applies to people’s lives today, he said.
“We believe he has already come, so we know about him historically, but we still have a sense in which now we have to peel away the cultural religious baggage that has accumulated,” Picket said. “Jesus is not a cultural icon or a custom of culture, a sociological byproduct, but he was and is a person.”
Picket said that mixed in with this is the second half of Advent, a longing for the second coming when Christians believe that Christ will come back.
Carter said that in this part of Advent Christians look toward the future when all will be made right.
These two aspects of Christ’s coming-the already and the not yet-find their joint celebration, after Advent ends, on Christmas Day, Carter said. This is when Christians believe Jesus was born.
And Advent points to this day and the expectation of what followed, Carter said.
“Christmas is just beginning at the birth, but it continues on,” Carter said. “[We celebrate a time when] God who is otherwise hard to see in this life [made] himself visible, but we believe he will be back.”
This jubilation of God coming to the world as Christ can be hidden with all the hustle of the holiday season, Picket said.
“The weeks leading up to Christmas tend be frantic and indulgent and [can] obscure the real point of Advent, which is . will we really have an encounter with the Lord himself?” Picket said. “Will we see him, recognize him and grow in our faith as well? That is the great question in the Gospels.”
The holiday season can be hard-the stresses of money and time, or that empty seat facing you at the table. Even in the midst of life’s difficulties, Carter said the Advent season is meant to slow us down to reflect and look forward to something greater-to find hope in the middle of it all.
“What is the one word that captures the Advent and Christmas season?” Carter said. “Joy. There is joy because our God is with us, that he is love, that he knows our own weaknesses and shows us a way. Joy is the reason for the season.”
Updated @ 6:49 a.m. on 12/28/15.