The Christmas season is here again, having seemingly arrived with a thud this year due to Covid-19. It’s safe to say a lot of traditions and practices are not as we normally have imagined.

But does it have to be that way? Has Christmas been stolen by that ultimate grinch, Covid-19? It’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas: the arrival of Christ the Savior. That arrival is something that is constant, no matter the changing times, whether good or bad. This is remembered and celebrated in the Advent season.

Believe it or not, Advent is separate from Christmas. Christmas celebrates Christ’s arrival, his birth in Bethlehem. Advent remembers this, but also anticipates it, or rather anticipates its repeat. The two holidays coincide and are generally thought to be the same, but Advent starts the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and runs through Christmas Eve. Christmas starts on Christmas Day and runs through Epiphany, which is January 6th. Do the math: December 25th to January 6th, and you get the twelve days of Christmas, plus one.

So what exactly is Advent?

“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“God of hope, I look to you with an open heart and yearning spirit. During this Advent season, I will keep alert and awake, listening for your word and keeping to your precepts. My hope is in you.” ~ Matthew Kelly

Advent essentially serves two purposes: it is looking back in remembrance of Christ’s first coming, as the Baby in the manger. Here He comes in peace with the good news of the Gospel, as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. But Advent is also the looking forward, anticipating Christ’s Second Coming, this time as Judge and Redeemer, to set things right again. Christians the world over celebrate both aspects, remembering that in both times He comes as Savior and Deliverer.

What of the wreath and candles? The practice of displaying a wreath dates back to the mid-19th century, when a Lutheran minister used a wage wheel to display candles that led up to Christmas Eve. The wheel was adorned with evergreens and pinecones, symbolizing life amidst the “death” of winter. Traditions have varied over time, with today’s wreaths mostly featuring a wreath with four candles, each to be lit on the four Sundays before Christmas. Colors of the candles vary, and some wreaths include a center candle to be lit on Christmas Day.

With the myriad of problems that have faced us this past year, one could use a little hope. Advent reminds us that yes, there is hope still. Not only is the physical world redeemed, but so are those souls who put their faith in the One who has the ability to redeem both body and spirit. There’s no doubt we all struggle in this life. Advent reminds us that our struggle is not in vain.

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