Christians today (especially those who follow the liturgical calendar) observe the season of Advent as a time of expectation, preparation and celebration leading up to Christmas or Christmastide. Many may be surprised to know that the original observance of the Advent season had nothing to do with Christmas!
The word Advent means “coming” and is derived from the Latin word adventus, a translation of the Greek word parousia. In the fourth and fifth centuries Advent was a season of preparation — not for Christmas but for baptisms that would take place at Epiphany. It was a season (40 days) of fasting, prayer and penance. Roman Christians in the sixth century began to tie the season of Advent to the second coming of Christ. It was not until the Middle Ages that Advent was celebrated in anticipation of Christmas.
In the modern-church era, Advent is a memorial of Christ’s first coming and an anticipation of the kingdom to come. In fact, the first two Sundays of Advent point to the return of Christ in judgment while the last two Sundays remember his first coming into the world.
Advent is intended to be a time of reflection, penance, fasting and praying. Ironically, the weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with parties, food and shopping. The secular commercialism of Christmas, which begins right after Halloween, can distract the faithful from taking time to reflect during this holy season.
Amid the activities of the season, reflect on the Scriptures for each week in Advent. Also, reflect each day of the week on the themes for each Sunday: hope, peace, joy and love.
Reflection often prompts one to action, and many wonderful gifts of kindness and compassion are expressed during the season of Advent. This is a story of kindness shown by complete strangers.
As is evident in most coffee shops, baristas are trained to offer polite conversation and care to customers while they simultaneously maintain a steady focus on their primary task of preparing and serving drinks. Yet, when baristas Pierce Dunn and Evan Freeman of Vancouver, BC, noticed a grieving woman pull up to the drive-through window of their coffee shop, they did something bold.
They stopped what they were doing and listened to the woman tell them about her recently deceased husband. Then, together, they reached out the window to hold her hand and to pray for her. Unbeknownst to the baristas, the driver of another car also waiting in line snapped a picture of them praying for the woman.
The image ultimately went viral, and the crew’s story was featured across Canada and the United States. When asked about why he chose to pray for the woman, Dunn concluded that “if you can bring yourself to understand what someone else is going through, you can show them kindness and make an impact on the world.”
From a Christian perspective, this story is striking and startling because such a small act of kindness has been viewed by the world as a rare and special moment. Yet, in today’s world, we often find ourselves substituting a “nice” gesture for a “kind” action. A polite habit can even be used as a cop-out or excuse for avoiding deeper conversations and bolder actions. And while our intentions may be good, our nice habits are often void of value and substance, and the power of our Christian faith is subsequently held at bay.
The message and character of Jesus was rooted in kindness and care for others. He never allowed rules, reputation or risk to hold him back from serving those in need. He was and is the perfect example of kindness: one who puts others’ needs before his or her own. His disciples were and still today are called to the same task.
After all, during the first Advent, God gifted the world with a Savior and Jesus gifted the world with salvation. The second Advent promises eternity with Christ for those who receive his gift of salvation.