Advent wasn't even something on my radar until seminary. I grew up in church - even have a parent in ministry, and while our church would sing Christmas carols and have sermons about the birth of Christ in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, my only frame of reference for Advent was the calendars our local Wal-mart sold that contained a piece of chocolate to eat each day leading up to December 25th.
Simply put, advent refers to the coming of an important person, and the weeks leading up to Christmas present a special opportunity for believers to remember the advent of Jesus Christ. If we're not careful, we can easily get caught up in the accouterments of the season. Trust me, I'm more on the spectrum of Buddy the Elf when it comes to anything Christmas (the Christmas CDs got pulled out on October 25, I decorated before Thanksgiving, I'm already done with my Christmas shopping - don't hate!, Hallmark Christmas movies are watched each week...), so I can easily fall into wrapping, shopping, caroling, and baking without remembering. So how can we avoid the trap of Christmas commercialism this season? How can we remember Christ this Christmas?
Whether you are single, married, have children, or don't have children, included below are ways you can participate in Advent this holiday season.
- Advent Devotions - This has become a practice for me the past couple of years. In addition to my Bible reading, I read a short devotional in the morning that points me to the reasons for Christ's first coming and the anticipation of His second coming. If you want recommendations, Scott James, one of our Elders at Brook Hills, recently published an advent guide - The Expected One - that is available for purchase, and it's a fantastic resource. Other recommended devotionals include: John Piper's The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, Gordon Conwell's Journey to the Manger (you can get this one via daily email updates), and Christ Fellowship Church's Sing in Exultation (this is our church plant in Homewood).
- Advent Calendar - This can be a daily, concrete reminder for us. As you anticipate opening each flap on the calendar (and maybe eating the candy there if you get such a calendar...), you can remember the longing Israel felt as it looked for the Messiah's coming and how we long for Christ's return. You can incorporate a Scripture verse for each day, a prophecy about Christ's first or second coming, a verse to memorize, a song to sing - the ideas are endless!
- Advent Candles - This involves 5 candles (3 purple, 1 pink or blue, and 1 white) that are lit on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas signifying Christ as the "light of the world" (Isa. 9:2; Jn. 1:1-9; 8:12; 11:9-10). One candle is lit on the first Sunday, two on the second Sunday, etc. with the fifth candle (the white one) being lit on Christmas Day. What do these signify? The tradition started in the 19th century when Protestant pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern starting using a wreath and candles during Advent with the children at the mission school in Hamburg, Germany. Lighting a candle doesn't do much in itself, but you can pair it with Scripture readings, prayers of thanksgiving and praise, singing Christmas hymns, and conversations about the significance of the Scripture readings.
A friend of mine who is a kindergarten teacher at a private school is using the Advent candles and wreath to help her class remember Christ at Christmas.
- Week 1 - Light a purple candle (purple being the color of royalty) and accompany it with verses about the expectation, hope, and prophecy regarding the Messiah's first coming.
- Week 2 - Light two purple candles and read Scripture about the preparation of the Messiah's coming such as the angel appearing to Mary or John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus (Matt. 3:1-12; Mk. 1:1-8; Lk.1) .
- Week 3 - Light two purple candles and a pink (or blue) candle to express the joy of Jesus' birth announcement by the angels to the shepherds (Lk. 2:8-20).
- Week 4 - Light three purple candles and the pink candle to represent the love of God in sending His Son and the peace Christ brings (Isa. 9:8; Jn. 3:16-17; Rom. 5:1).
- Christmas Eve or Christmas Day - Light all five candles with the white candle symbolizing Christ as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away our sin (Isa. 52:13-53:12; Jn. 1:29).
Be creative (or go to Pinterest to see what ideas you can copy from others). Use these ideas. Don't use these ideas. The point is to remember Christ and the mission of the manger.
*For more about remembering Christ in your holiday traditions, I commend to you Noel Piper's Treasuring God in Our Traditions (for pdf of the book, click here). Also, keep up with A Manger with a Mission, our Advent sermon sermons at Brook Hills, at this site.