The word 'Advent' is from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming.' Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year (in the Western churches), and encompasses the span of time from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, until the Nativity of Our Lord is celebrated.
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, just as Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. Over time, the emphasis has shifted from one of greater penitence and purification to one of
joyful expectation, but either way the basic idea is the same: Advent is time we should be using to prepare our hearts to re-live the birth of the Lord and welcome him into our hearts. We should keep in mind that Christmas (like other liturgical celebrations) is more than just the celebration of the memory of things past. When we participate in the Church’s liturgy, the action of the Holy Spirit makes us present to the events that we celebrate: “Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present. The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1104)
As noted in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, during Advent, the faithful are asked:
to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world. Here are a few suggestions for Advent:
1. Take advantage of the Sacrament of Confession. In anticipation of the great Solemnity of Christmas we should clean our souls for a worthy reception of Jesus into our lives, our families, our homes. Confessions are heard 30 minutes before all our weekday and weekend Masses.
2. Take the time to offer the Lord more of yourself through prayer. Don’t give in to the business of our secular Christmas rush. Set some time aside to sit and breathe, to think, to pray, to read.
3. Get your pastor a nice gift (perhaps a new puppy). I’m just kidding (and perhaps testing if you are still reading). As you offer gifts to your loved ones don’t forget to offer the gift of yourself by choosing to be present to those around you, to listen to them, to spend good quality time together. Be present in your family gatherings, and don’t forget to enjoy them.