The Christmas season is here!
I always begin the season with eager anticipation of a full but joyful holiday. Celebration and joy, proclamation and hope – I long for the cool, crisp days of December to be defined by the very peace and love that Christmas day is meant to celebrate. But more often then not the season ends up feeling frantic, self-focused, stressed, and crazy as I hop from one program to another, breathing a huge sigh of relief when Christmas is finally over.
In years past I have felt an increasing sadness that the “reason for the season” is so easily lost – not just on me, but on my neighbors and friends. Why am I surprised that many people around me think Christmas is all about Santa when I myself have allowed reflecting on and celebrating God’s gift of Jesus to come dead last among Christmas programs, carols, food preparation, and family visits.
It is one of the reasons I’ve come to love observing Advent, a practice my parents introduced me to as a child and one that I’ve come back to as I’ve sought to establish family holiday traditions that give Christ first place among the hustle and bustle.
Advent, derived from the Latin adventus, means “coming,” and is the season leading up to Christmas, commonly defined as beginning 4 Sundays before December 25th, but sometimes celebrated simply as the first 25 days of December.
The Advent season is meant to be one of waiting, hoping, and remembering as a way of both preparing our heart to celebrate God’s faithfulness in sending Jesus, and preparing our heart to long for and anticipate his promised second coming. Advent is intended to walk us into the Christmas story, rehearsing God’s big picture plan and reminding us again how God’s story of redemption throughout the ages broke through the heavens and came down to earth as a little baby. Advent is meant to be a beautiful preparation of our hearts to feel the glory and beauty of Christmas day.
Advent, of course, has long been a church practice full of tradition and symbolism, usually identified by the Advent wreath and the lighting of the Advent candles. In recent years the observance of Advent has seen a resurgence not only within Protestant churches, but also among people in a very personal way – in their own devotions or as families.
Of course, if we’re not careful, even observing Advent can become just another added stress to the Christmas season. But done simply and well it can be a beneficial, spiritually enriching time that prepares our hearts well for the celebration of Christ’s birth! Advent devotionals, usually daily readings, can be especially helpful. Below I’ve listed several resources that can help guide you in observing Advent and ultimately in celebrating Christmas:
Desiring God/ John Piper’s Advent book: Good News of Great Joy (free PDF)
The Advent Project by Biola University (Daily devotionals sent directly to you via e-mail)
Advent Devotional and printable ornaments using the Jesus Storybook Bible
Truth in the Tinsel (crafts and devotionals for kids, PDF download for a fee)
Jesse Tree (there are many forms, but I am simply linking to the clearest illustration of the Jesse tree, with all the readings, passages, and symbols included. Please do a search for yourself to see the many ways that the Jesse tree could be implemented in your family.)
The What and the Why of Advent
There are many tools available to help you celebrate the advent season, some more traditional (with a very specific set of readings) and others more radical (daily service projects meant to make the season other’s focused). But most importantly is the common thread is a desire to daily turn to God’s Word and trace the story of salvation to the birth of Christ, stir our hearts to joyful celebration, and posture our lives to hopeful anticipation of Christ’s return.
Do you observe Advent with your family? Why or why not?