In 2009 I created an Advent Guide that discussed ways to build hope and anticipation into the season of Advent. That Advent Guide is a great introduction to the season. What follows is an updated version of the guide with additional resources and links.
The close link between first and second “comings” of Jesus then becomes clear. Jesus is baptized by John. The Spirit descends, anointing Jesus afresh for his public ministry. The voice of God himself is heard, announcing him as his beloved Son. He is the one who will bring God‟s sovereign, saving rule “on earth as in heaven”. The double Advent theme thus dovetails perfectly together. The first coming is not only the preparation for the second one; it forms a kind of template for it. Learning to live appropriately between the two “comings”, under the rescuing rule of Jesus and in the power of his Spirit, is what it means to be Christian.
Advent is the beginning of the New Year for the Christian calendar, and is the first major season in the seasons that tell the story of Christ from year to year as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. For an excellent primer head to The Voice‘s Advent page.
Advent has four weeks, each moving closer to the first Advent of Christ, his birth, which is celebrated at Christmas. The four weeks are usually kept track of using an Advent wreath, which has four candles for each week and a central Christ candle that represents the light of Christ. The message of the Advent wreath is that week by week the light of Christ shines brighter until the week of Christmas when all five candles are lit.
Below are different ideas of how to make the season of Advent special for you, your family, and your church. Try one or try five; each presents an opportunity to focus on this season as a time of anticipation and hope.
Turn Off the Christmas Music
The point of Christmas music is to celebrate the coming of Christ. During Advent, the Church is anticipating the coming of Christ, so singing about his coming is jumping the gun a bit! Not listening to Christmas music is a way to focus on the anticipation of Christ’s coming and helps us to not take for granted the blessing of Christ’s incarnation. One ancient tradition of song during Advent is the O Antiphons, which are sung in the seven days before Christmas. I have created my own version of the O Antiphons, which can be read in “O Antiphons: A Theological Translation.”
Hold Off on the Decorations
Similar to Christmas music, decorating for Christmas during the Advent season does not allow us to fully anticipate Christmas day. Make a new family tradition this year by decorating a little bit each week or by decorating everything on Christmas Eve or the last week of Advent (December 20th-24th).
Hold Off on the Christmas Tree
In my family we used to put up the Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving. It was a great time to do it, with everyone home and off from work, but it is hard to celebrate Advent when the Christmas tree lights are getting all the attention. Try to wait a week or two or three before you put up the tree. If your friends ask you why you don’t have a tree tell them it’s still Advent! But, if you have a spouse like I do who just has to have the tree up, start out with a pretty bare tree and slowly decorate it, maybe hanging an ornament each night your family does their Advent reading.
You can also hold off on Christmas by celebrating the holy days that occur during the season of Advent. Gather your family on December 6th for St. Nicholas Day and give them some gifts (your kids will love you for it!) or celebrate the last week of Advent by saying the O Antiphons starting December 17th (see above).
In America and much of the Western Church Advent and Christmas are seasons of feasting. We joyously celebrate the season beginning with Thanksgiving feast and end with Christmas dinner with lots of parties and big meals in between.
There are some Christian denominations though that fast instead of feast. They fast during the season of Advent so that they learn to anticipate the joy of Christmas (and all the food that goes with it) by abstaining from certain foods. We live in between the first Advent and second Advent of Christ, so we urge you to both feast and fast this Advent! Feast in the joy of Christ’s coming, but also take some time this Advent season to fast in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. My article “The Advent Fast” (with accompanying study guide) is an introduction to how fasting can be a spiritual practice during Advent.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, suggests the following litany for families during Advent:
“In our home, we begin our evening meal by lighting a candle and saying a short litany. For Advent we sing the first verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” when we light the candle.”
Candles for an Advent wreath are sold in packs at your nearest Hallmark store, or you can buy five candles (three purple, one pink, and one white). You can use any wreath you would prefer. The Advent Wreath is a tangible way for your family to learn to celebrate Advent together.
Advent Calendars are also a great way for younger children (or adults!) to learn to anticipate Christmas.
Advent Calendars can be found at most food stores or ordered online. Starbucks is even selling them this year.
While the world spends vast amounts of money on Christmas gifts and even goes into debt buying the latest toys and fashions, we as Christians find our hope not in gifts but in Christ’s coming to earth. For more information on how stopping the Christmas splurge is the best way to celebrate Advent, go to Advent Conspiracy. Advent Conspiracy and International Justice Mission have teamed together this year to help end modern day slavery. All we have to do is spend less on ourselves and more on those who are in desperate need for the God of Justice to rescue them.
This year, Advent Conspiracy has added an app on iPhone and Android to help you fast from different purchases and then direct your savings toward Living Waters International or International Justice Mission.
I’m not saying don’t buy any presents, though. There are many ways to shop for Christmas presents that gives hope to others. Shop for Christmas presents this year at Ten Thousand Villages for fair trade clothing, furniture, and items, head on over to Sevenly for some wares that support some great causes, buy some Land of a Thousand Hills coffee for your caffeine needs, shop International Justice Mission’s gift catalog or sponsor a child through Compassion International.
For additional information on Christmas shopping read Julie Clawson’s “Fair Trade Christmas.”
Or this year go all crafty and make some of your own DIY presents.
No matter whether your family does daily devotions or not, make it your Christian New Year’s resolution to take some time out of the day to talk with your family about the coming of Christ. Maybe choose to focus on Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46-55, use the Mustard Seed Associate’s devotional Waiting for the Light (the first devotional is by yours truly) or make a Jesse Tree with your family—it’s a craft and devotional! Ann Voskamp has also created a Jesse Tree devotional.
Goshen College also provides devotions for Advent. A contemplative’s delight is the Watch for the Light devotional. Advent is the start of the new church calendar, so if you want to start using a devotional series linked to the church year Advent is the perfect time to start.
Advent is the perfect time of year to cozy up in your favorite chair and read some poetry. Over the past few years I have written poems during Advent. Some of my favorites are “On the Incarnation of Man,” ”Day 23” and “Day 20.” Another poem I love to read during Advent is T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.”
If you would like to use this guide with your small group or church contact me.