Why the practice of Advent might be just what we need this Christmas
Written by Marion Clifford
A glance at the calendar will show you that Christmas Day is rapidly drawing closer. Whether this year has seemed to rush by or has lagged and dragged for you (and for me it has somehow been both) again 2021 has been a year like no other.
Many of us are excited to have reached the season of celebration and long for it to be meaningful in our relationship with God. But the whirlwind that has been this year, with the uncertainties, worries and dark times around the globe can make jumping straight into the tinsel, jingle bells and even Joy to the World feel a bit unnatural and ill-fitting. Combine that with the bustle and sensory overload of the Christmas season and we could easily skim passed Christmas’s deeper invitations.
What we need is a deep breath; a gentle, intentional reorienting around the message of Christmas. What we need is to practice the rhythm of Advent.
Beyond the surface of Christmas, God invites us to a deeper connection with himself and others. He invites us to offer hope to the world, to reconnect with the reality that God himself entered humanity and walked with us to show us the way and bring rescue. Advent is a pathway into depth that our souls are crying out for.
What is Advent?
Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus”, meaning arrival. It is a time of preparation as we look forward to marking the arrival of Jesus. We look towards the birth of Jesus, but we also look towards Jesus’ return one day as King. Advent reminds us that we’re waiting in this time in between the two arrivals of Jesus.
Advent lets us hold the tension. We acknowledge that there have been hard things, that there is brokenness and pain in the world around us and in our lives. But we can also celebrate the goodness in the reality that God is with us and offers us abundant life in him.
The Christian Church has observed Advent through the centuries with traditions like Advent focused Scripture readings and hymns. Many people and churches set up Advent wreaths with a candle for each of the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day and a central candle representing Christ to be lit on Christmas Day. Each Sunday of Advent has a theme: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
What’s the value in Advent for us today?
Though Advent is a centuries old practice there is value in it still. Advent marks out a time for preparation for Christmas. Given how chock-full our schedules and hearts can get around this time, we need a time set apart to deliberately focus on all that God becoming human means for us.
Celebrating Advent as a whole season allows God’s story to shape our year. It builds our alertness and anticipation about where and how God is at work.
Doing tangible daily practices, and repeating them every year, creates a rhythm. It’s true that repetition can become dry, but much of that’s about our posture. We can repeat this rhythm with the expectation of letting God’s story produce transformation in and through us.
What is Advent the Hosanna way?
We can go even further in thinking about how Advent translates into our church and community context. We can ask, as a vibrant, creative, contemporary, diverse, Spirit-led church: what might the Hosanna way of Advent look like? Our strengths of creative expression, of the prophetic, of active participation in the community, can enhance our practice of Advent individually and communally.
So here are some suggestions that hopefully combine the old and the new:
- an advent Bible reading plan or devotional
- some form of candle lighting (we do a simple arrangement of 5 coloured candles, lighting a different one each week to remember that Jesus is our hope, peace, joy and love)
- listen to an Advent playlist (eg. on Spotify or Youtube)
- do an Advent calendar, perhaps with an activity for each day (including outward focused ones like reaching out to a neighbour or giving to those in need, as well as some easy, celebratory ones like hot chocolates or Christmas lights)
- use the themes of Advent (hope, peace, joy and love) as each week’s focus for prayer and intercession for the community
- look up some Advent art online (eg Biola University’s online Advent Art Project provides a mixed media devotional for each day of Advent)
- build up your Christmas decorating slowly so you can ease into it
- seek a revelation each day or week from God about what Jesus’ arrival means for you
- create art to express a theme of Advent
- gather with others to read Scripture, pray, reflect and celebrate
- make a habit of praying “Come, Lord Jesus” to express longing and anticipation for Jesus