What kind of a word is “Advent”?

Since we’re still in “Advent” rather than the “12 Days of Christmas“, where does Advent come from? Well, Latin. From the adverb “ad” meaning “to” and the verb “venire” meaning “to come”, combining to make a verb meaning “arrive”.

But what’s coming? And to where? And is this related to “adventure”? Advent in the church calendar is the season leading up to Christmas. It’s Jesus who’s coming. And he’s coming here, to Earth. Or at least, Christmas is the annual celebration of Jesus being born on Earth. And Advent is the season of anticipation before that celebration.

“Advent” hasn’t always been solely the domain of the pre-Christmas season though. And we can still see this today with “Adventist” churches. They aren’t perpetually anticipating the Christmas celebration. They are looking forward to another “Advent”, the “Second Coming” of Jesus. So not the baby in the manger, but the king coming to take his kingdom described in the Revelation of John. You don’t hear “advent” associated with Jesus’ Second Coming all that often, but the word definitely refers to both events.

What about “adventure”? It has “advent” in it! Yes, and it is descended from the same Latin words. But “adventure” took a different path to get to English, which is why its meaning is associated with novelty and daring rather than arriving. Instead of coming directly from the verb, adventure comes from the Latin phrase “adventura (res)” meaning “(a thing) about to happen.” “Adventure” was used in Old French to mean “a chance event”, and over time, as it made its way into English, the “chance/accident” meaning was emphasized. As the word developed, it changed from meaning “taking chances” to “novel or exciting”. The word had several centuries to make this journey, emphasizing different aspects over time until “adventure” and “advent” really only only share sounds rather than a core meaning.

These two words, advent and adventure, show us how, even if a word starts in the same place, over centuries of use meanings diverge widely. And meanings are still changing. This is why reading old texts is sometimes confusing. Words don’t have the same connotations now as they did when the text was written. It can be really helpful to look back at the history of a word to see what the author might have meant. Like with the season of Advent. In the present day early 21st century it is tied closely to waiting for Santa and Christmas (all those chocolate Advent calendars have Christmas scenes one them). But when the word was first used, it was referring to a more contemplative season. It’s not wrong for words to change meaning, plus it’s almost impossible to stop. But if we know a bit of the history we can better understand the connections between words.

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