Advent is the beginning of the traditional church year. This year, the first Sunday in advent falls on the 30th November, also St Andrew’s Day. (St Andrew is of course the Patron Saint of the Celtic country of Scotland.)
In the Celtic church, Advent – like many of the other festivals – was counted differently from that of the Roman church, as a 40 day period of preparation, much like Lent, starting around the middle of November (depending on whether or not sabbaths are counted) – not so much a preparation for Christmas, but rather for the return of the King.
In the early Jewish church, it is likely that this 40 day period of preparation was originally linked to the season of repentance running up to the High Holy Days – Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Yom Teruah (The Day of Trumpets, known in Judaism as Rosh haShanah, Jewish New Year), and Sukkot, (The Feast of Tabernacles, Booths or Shelters, the final harvest festival of the Jewish year, and thought to be the Puritan Pilgrims’ inspiration for Thanksgiving).
All of the Autumn festivals have prophetic significance, and Sukkot in particular is linked to the return of the Messiah and the great Marriage Feast of Christ and his bride, the Church (Greek: Ekklesia, Hebrew: Kahal, both meaning a ‘called out body of people’. The Israelites in the Wilderness are sometimes referred to as the ‘Church in the Wilderness’.).
It is not known when the traditions associated with the High Holy Days of the early church migrated to the midwinter festival, but it was in any event a very early change, and it is impossible to know whether the early Celtic church retained the earlier Jewish traditions or the later customs. If Gildas was right in saying that the British church was founded in AD 37, however, it is conceivable that the earliest Celtic Christians celebrated Sukkot in the same way that we now celebrate Christmas, to celebrate Messiah’s birth and to look forward to his return.
Whenever you celebrate the first advent of Messiah, whether it be in the Autumn with the Jewish believers, or at midwinter with the Roman church, let us say together of his return, ‘Come Lord Jesus’.