This week marks the beginning of the advent season. And while most people are beginning to decorate their homes with lights and dress their Christmas trees with tinsel, I’m reflecting on the meaning of advent and some creative ways to observe the season this year. Having not grown up in a church that observed the church calendar, advent as a set season of reflective preparation and anticipation was foreign. Our church had a Christmas eve service, but never mentioned the season much before or afterward.
But this year, as part of a series we are doing with the youth, we are spending time over the next few Sundays to reflect on the meaning of the advent season and how, as a church, we can use this time as a reminder of God’s gift of grace that came through Jesus and the good news that he was when he first came into the world.
In light of this, I was thinking of a few ways I could observe the season as a period of prayerful, reflective meditation on who Christ is, what he came into the world to do, and how the season of advent is a season of revelation. Here are a few I came up with…
- Take some time each week to read through the Christmas narratives. ( I prefer the Lukan account but the Matthean account works just as well.) We often save the reading of these narratives just for Christmas, but try reading them in the 3-4 weeks leading up to the 25th. Use the time to reflect on their meaning outside of the holidays. Christmas is the beginning of Jesus’ mission on earth and reflects the gospel he would begin to preach 30 years later.
- Read and reflect alone and with others. Make advent a time of personal preparation as well as community fellowship. If you have a family, read it together! Allow the anticipation of advent to become something that brings people together as Jesus’ birth brought together poor shepherds and rich wise men!
- Observe a kind of act that marks the progression of the season. I could never understand the importance or meaning of an advent calendar until I began observing the season. Other people light candles or put up particular decorations. Observance of these acts are not so that we become slave to ritual, but that, via physical act, our hearts and minds sharpened. The marking of the progression of time in anticipation of an important event helps us to prepare our hearts and minds, keeping us focused as we look forward and helping us get back on track when we lose our way.
- Let the season guide the prayers you pray. Using a devotional or a prayer book (if you’re a high church type) can be helpful in marking the season of advent. Personally, I have found Bobby Gross’s Living the Christian Year (link) to be very helpful, not only for advent, but for aligning my prayers towards the church calendar.
- Celebrate and let your excitement for the season grow through acts of service for others. Find a local soup kitchen, shelter, or other ministry to serve in during this season. I would encourage you to serve more than once! And each time you do serve, reflect on what God has done for us by sending Jesus, his son, and get excited to celebrate this season of advent. Let your excitement center around God and what he has done in Christ. The greater the excitement, the more we will be motivated to go out to serve and give and share the love that God has shown us in the advent of Jesus.
These are just a few practical suggestions that have helped me over the years. I find, often, that it is so easy to get distracted by the cultural trappings of the holidays that the heart of anticipation for the advent season is lost or dissipated. Taking time to pull away from these things to reflect in preparation for Christmas in the weeks beforehand allows us not only to grow more deeply in our relationship with Christ, but also to grow our love for people around us and motivate us to passionately serve, give, and share the love of Christ.