The historic starting point of the Christian year is the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christian “Pascha,” or Passover. However, for most Christians, the Christian seasons begin with Advent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s coming.
The season of Advent (from Latin adventus, “coming”) begins four Sundays before Christmas in Western churches and is considered the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. The season was not observed before the sixth century. Advent, like Lent, has been regarded as a penitential season, a time of preparation for the glorious manifestation of the Lord. Biblical themes stressed during Advent include the many Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and of the Lord’s impending judgment against sin. Thus, Advent celebrates the anticipation of both the “first coming” of Christ at his incarnation and his “coming again” as judge of the world (Acts 17:31) and vindicator of his faithful witnesses (Rev. 6:9). Amid divergent eschatologies, Christian worshipers unite during Advent as they focus on the prophetic cry: “See, your king comes to you” (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5).