Most people haven’t heard of Advent, or if they have, it isn’t something Protestants do. I’m here to tell you, if you aren’t taking advantage of the Advent season, you are missing out. Advent is the beginning of our church year. This is our new beginning. Advent isn’t Christmas. In Christmas we celebrate a Savior born. In Advent, we wait in hope for a Savior to come.
“My mercy and justice are coming soon. My salvation is on the way. My strong arm will bring justice to the nations. All distant lands will look to me and wait in hope for my powerful arm.” – Isaiah 51:5
Most of our celebration of Christmas is really about Advent. The preparation, the expectation, the hope- the things that lead to Immanuel. Most of our Christmas songs are Advent songs. Songs about the waiting. The hope that comes before. That is what we are celebrating in Advent. And not just the hope of that first coming of Jesus, but also looking forward and preparing for that second coming.
The color of the season is purple. It reflects both royalty and mourning. Wait, why mourning? No, I’m not bringing the Easter message into the Advent one. But when you are faced with the coming Messiah, there is preparation that must take place, preparation of the heart. It is a hopeful, but reflective time. Am I ready for that second coming? Am I living in this light or do I need my light refreshed this season?
Hopefully, you’re beginning to see the importance and how deeply meaningful celebrating Advent can be. I’m going to push that thinking even further, still.
Culturally, we bemoan the Christmas trees popping up after Halloween. We yell, “Wait! You’re missing something! It isn’t time yet!” We lament that our culture has taken our holiday and turned it into something else. We tell them, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And indeed He is. But when we look at our lives, our homes, and our rhythms, our December’s look an awful lot like the rest of the culture. The culture we want to shame, we imitate. Advent keeps us from that habit. It gives us a time for the festivities to begin. It gives us landmarks for the season. It focuses our minds on what we are celebrating and remembering. Instead of getting swept up in whether the kids should get 4 gifts, 3 gifts, or unlimited gifts- our focus is that Jesus is coming! Instead of getting sucked into the busy of the season, we have set aside this as a holy season for reflection and focus, not just for getting through before the big day. (And Christmas is more than one day people. December 25th is the 1st day of Christmas.
It gives a rhythm to our lives. We begin our Christian year in expectant hope, in searching our own hearts and lives, and in preparing the way for the Savior. This is an excellent way to start the year. It is a much needed reminder. Some say tradition is dead. It is only dead if we are going through motions out of obligations. We are forgetful people. We have to write things down. We have to repeat them. We have to keep reminding ourselves of the truth and beauty in this world or we forget it is there. We get busy. We forget. Celebrating Advent will help you slow down and not forget.
How do you go about celebrating Advent? Well, I have a few things for you to consider doing. I say consider because we all adapt what we need for our situation and lifestyle. What works for me as a homeschooling mom of a large family may not work for you, even if you are a homeschooling mom of a large family. Things are funny that way. My real hope for you would be that you think through the Advent season and develop a plan to go through it intentionally with your family, whoever that might include. (I’ll also have an Advent Family Devotional to help you along if you desire as well as The Pastor’s personal reading plan for yourself through Advent.) My hope is that you’ll give Advent a good try and see if you can develop a closer relationship with Christ this Advent season.
Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week has a theme to focus on. There are numerous ways to divide the weeks. We divide them this way: Week One- Expectation, Week Two- Preparation, Week Three- Celebration, Week Four- Incarnation. I’ll be using these, but if you want to use others, feel free. In Advent, you’ll often see an Advent wreath. And you can certainly find them for your home. (Last year, I just bought 3 purple, 1 pink, and 1 white candle in a jar instead of using a wreath. It just fit our home better. Weeks 1, 2, and 4 use a purple candle. Week 3 uses a pink candle. Christmas gets the white candle. The candles are lit each week, including the candles from previous weeks. So the anticipation really grows. In our house, we light the candles every time we sit for Advent family devotion. In church, we light them once a week on Sunday morning. Evergreens are another Advent decoration with significant meaning. (Representative of eternal life.)
To celebrate Advent, set aside time as a family to focus on the themes of Advent. (Expectation, preparation, celebration, and incarnation) I’d encourage you to read the Bible, use a devotional, sing carols, etc. that have to do with the theme. It is a great time to start some new traditions from your family that reflect Christ, not the culture. Even if it is only once a week, make it a priority. Show your kids what is the most important in your life. (As a side note, you can check out my Advent family devotional if you are needing something, or use one of the recommendations at the end of this post.)
For you personally, commit to reading through a reading plan or devotional yourself this Advent. (I just so happen to have both that you can take advantage of for free!) Take the time to reflect personally and intentionally set your mind and heart on the season at hand. This only comes once a year. Fully experience expectation in week one. Fully experience preparation in week two. We don’t put up our Christmas decorations until week two of Advent. It falls under preparation, so that is the week we prepare. It keeps us all focused on one thing at a time. Don’t neglect your our spiritual walk in trying to be everyone’s everything this season. Cookies can wait. You don’t have to see every family member seventeen times. They’ll deal. Do something that makes you stop and focus. If you can commit to this daily, fabulous. If you can only commit a few days a week, do that. Just commit and stick to it. Grab a cup of hot cocoa or hot tea and sit by the fire or tree and focus on Jesus this Advent.
Another thing we do in our family for Advent is the automatic no. I’ve talked about that here before, but I’ll explain again. To avoid overcommitting ourselves during the most busy season of the year, we say no to almost everything. Our default answer becomes no. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything, but we don’t feel obligated to do anything. Our biggest priority is our family and focusing them on the coming Messiah. We say no to plenty of good things. But a good thing that comes in the way of the most important thing becomes a not good thing. We carefully choose what we will do or not do during Advent. It is a holy time, so we are careful not to waste it. We don’t travel all over to see family. We don’t attend more than one Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot. But what we do is intentional and adds to our celebration.
Don’t rush it. We have a tendency to rush things. It is part of that not being good at waiting bit. Don’t rush through the weeks. Don’t rush through your devotional time. I know we are busy. But we have to learn to slow down and take the time for the things that matter. This matters.
Go to church. I wish this didn’t need to be said. But it does. Commit to being at church every Sunday during Advent. 4 weeks. You can do it. Going to church will add to your Advent experience, especially if your church is on board with Advent celebration. But even if they are not, go. God has something for you there. You are part of the body. And as the big toe, you cannot stay home! (Just kidding about the big toe bit. You might be an ear. I don’t know. I think I am the trachea of the church. Sometimes irritated, but very loud.) Go to church. Share with your small group or Sunday school class what you are experiencing through the week by embracing Advent. Sing the hymns, carols, and songs with all your heart. I think you’ll find yourself more open and more reflective during this time.
Make it a point to not get swept away by the current of materialism. It is so easy this time of year to try to keep up with the Joneses. To obsesses over what you want to buy, buy, buy. Though not specifically Advent related, you’ll spare up a lot of time for God if you can let go of this particular burden. You can obsess in how much you buy or in how little you buy. My point is, don’t become obsessed. Buy your kids gifts, don’t buy your kids gifts, and move on. This is easier said than done. Focus on what you want your children to see this season. Focus on the WHY of gift giving. And then let the rest go. No guilt here. Don’t give this holiday to the mall.
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we cant take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”
I hope you’ll take the time to embrace this Advent season. I think you will find that you will grow so much more than you imagined when you do. I think you’ll also find your family greatly benefitted.
If you want my tips on thriving during the Holidays, click here.
A list of resources for you this Advent:
Advent Wreaths (or make your own)
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio
God Is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Watch for the Light by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
From Heaven by A.W. Tozer
And/Or Use Mine for Free!
Keep Herod in Christmas by Stan Key
Advent Extras for Kids:
The Nativity Movie
Jesus Storybook Bible
Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set
Melissa and Doug Nativity Set
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