Last Sunday — at my church and others in Gadsden, Etowah County, Alabama, the U.S. and around the world — was the beginning of this year’s Advent season.

For many Christians, it’s the most meaningful worship observance of the year, except for Easter.

Advent is defined in Roget’s Thesaurus as “the act or fact of coming near.” Webster’s College Dictionary tells that Advent is a Christian celebration during the four Sundays before Christmas, the time honored day chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus destined to be the Messiah.

The internet’s Wikipedia has further defined Advent “... as a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”

And there’s another reason for the celebration of Advent, defined in the Latin-English Online Dictionary as “to come, arrive, or reach.”

The Rev. Justin Holcomb, who teaches theology at both Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary, in an article for Christianity.com, explained that “... Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these ‘last days’ (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom.

“The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them.

“In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

In a devotional booklet prepared by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that can be used by all faiths in observing Advent, attention is called to this New Testament Scripture: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son.” (John 1:14, NIV)

The BGEA editors echo the words of church leaders from around the world: “Christmas is a wonderful time to start a family tradition, especially when it’s focused on celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ. As you gather your loved ones for Advent meditations, we pray that the Holy Spirit would shine His light in your hearts and bring focus to all your Christmas celebrations.”

And for all this year’s writers of the Paper Pulpit, we wish you and yours a Merry Christmas!

Harry D. Butler, a former broadcaster, is a motivational speaker and author of “Alabama’s First Radio Stations, 1920-1960.”