Christians around the world are currently observing the Advent season. It is a season of reverence and celebration leading up to Christmas Day. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Advent is a time of expectation and anticipation commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is believed that in the early days of Christianity, in Spain and in Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians during the January feast of Epiphany. Believers spent 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this big celebration. In those days, there was little linking Advent and Christmas.
In the 6th century, Roman Christians began tying Advent to the coming of Christ. However, the “coming” on their minds at the time was not Christ’s incarnation in the manger at Bethlehem, but rather Christ’s second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. Not until the Middle Ages did Advent season become clearly connected to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
In our modern 21st century, Christians observe the Advent season over the course of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The new Christian year begins with a twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which runs from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. For Christians today, Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” as believers anticipate the return of Christ in glory, consummating his eternal kingdom. The church finds itself in a situation similar to that of old Israel at the end of the Old Testament: exiled, waiting, hoping, and praying for the return of the Messiah.
For me, personally, this season brings to mind many of my favorite songs. Remember gathering with family and singing your favorite Christmas songs? Perhaps, like so many, you grew up singing your Christmas favorites in church, celebrating Christmas. What were some of your favorite Christmas hymns?
One of my favorites has always been “What Child Is This?” sung to a familiar English melody known to many as “Greensleeves.” Successful insurance salesman William C. Dix wrote the words to this beautiful hymn. Dix is considered one of the church’s finest lay hymn writers. In the early 1860s, living in Glasgow, Scotland, Dix was suddenly stricken with a serious illness at the age of twenty-nine. He was confined to a bed for a long time and suffered a deep depression as a result. At the end of his own strength, Dix called out to God, and in what many of us know as a “Dark Night of the Soul” moment, met God in a new and real way. This vivid spiritual experience launched a number of hymns, including the lyrics to “What Child Is This?” in 1865. The words are part of a longer poem, “The Manger Throne,” that Dix composed.
Please share some of your favorite Christmas hymns and carols in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
The Devotional Guy™