We’ve touched on the major themes of Advent and how they fit into the seasons of the Christian Year. Now let’s take a look at some practical ways you can make the observance of Advent a part of your spiritual formation.
Here are ten ideas for celebrating Advent . As always, start small. Don’t try to do all these at once; instead, think of them as a menu of items to try. Read over the whole list and choose one or two to put into practice this year.
1. Begin an evening practice of expectant prayer
This is one of the simplest ideas on the list—but also one of the most profound for anyone who feels rushed and out of control. Starting the first Sunday of Advent, set up a daily reminder on your phone, calendar app, watch, or a checklist by the bathroom mirror—whatever method works best for your daily rhythms. Before you go to bed, take five minutes and sit in silence in a quiet corner of your home. Don’t feel pressure to read Scripture or to pray a list of prayers; the theme of the season is to learn to wait on God and to watch for him breaking in. If you already have some kind of evening prayer practice such as the Examen or Compline, consider adding or changing one aspect of it to include this quiet waiting. Allow yourself to become aware of God’s presence. This is his time; let him do his work. Watch and see if joy finds you!
2. Work through an Advent calendar or book with your family
There are many good Advent devotional resources out there to use with your family. In my home, we have used Abingdon’s “Story of Christmas” Advent calendar for years. It has sturdy little books, one for each day of December, each with a very short reading from the Bible leading up to the birth of Jesus. Since our kids were able to read, we’ve taken turns reading one of the little books before bed each night leading up to Christmas. If we miss a night or two, we just catch up when we can get back to it again. This has been a great way to change up our bedtime rhythm and keep us anchored as a family in the true purpose of the holiday season. And because the little board books aren’t childish but simply little short lines from Scripture, it’s something we’ve been able to maintain even as our kids have gotten older.
3. Make an Advent wreath for the dinner table
We can deepen our experience of Advent by going beyond interior exercises like Scripture reading and prayer. One way to do this is to involve our sense of beauty, by taking the ordinary spaces in our home and devoting them to God. During Advent season, one tradition that dates back more than a thousand years is the making of an Advent wreath. The wreath is composed of a circle of greenery, four exterior candles, and an interior candle. The wreath is rich with symbolism, something tangible and beautiful that adorns one corner of our home. Each time our eyes fall on it, we are reminded of the story we are living out: the greenery, taken from an evergreen tree, symbolizes life that persists in the otherwise barren deadness of winter. The four outer candles symbolize the great themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love, while the central candle points to Jesus.
The making of an Advent wreath is simple and relatively inexpensive, something that can involve the whole family. Once it is made, it becomes an opportunity for devotion, lighting the candles before Sunday dinners or at other occasions during the season, an ever-present reminder of the time and season we are living with God.
A quick trip to Hobby Lobby or Michael’s (or even your local department store) should provide everything you need for an Advent wreath. If you’d like some step by step instructions, here’s a great short video that will get you started.
4. Get a good devotional guide
For personal use, there are countless great devotional guides out there. I can personally recommend Watch for the Light, a collection of writings for use during Advent from a wide variety of brilliant Christian authors throughout history. I can also recommend Bobby Gross’ Living the Christian Year, which contains devotional readings not only for Advent but the other seasons as well. Read daily or weekly, whatever suits your style. Allow the readings to draw you into God’s presence. Then carry your devotional reading into your day and involve others in the themes and ideas that God is stirring in you.
5. Burn scented candles in the evening
This is another way to involve more than just your mind in your Advent journey. Our memory is tied powerfully to scents and aromas, and scented candles can become another avenue through which we experience the themes of the Advent season. During your prayer times, as part of what you’re doing with an Advent wreath, or just as a separate exercise, purchase a few lightly scented candles and burn them at certain intervals. Think of the scent as a kind of incense, which is often used a symbol for prayer in Scripture. Choose a scent appropriate to the season—cinnamon, orange and clove, spruce; whatever seems appealing to you and your family. Evening works well for this, especially near bedtime as we are winding down for the day and turning toward thoughts of rest. Tie the scent of the candles to a prayerful reflection on the season and the ways you are watching and waiting for God’s work in the world.
6. Incorporate the Book of Common Prayer into your daily devotions
Consider using the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) during the season of Advent. Here’s a short guide on using the Book of Common Prayer as part of your devotional life. The BCP is tied deeply to the Christian Year and has numerous prayers, bits of Scripture, and selections of longer Scripture tied into the themes of Advent throughout the season. Using the BCP is an easy way to go deeply into the season of Advent each day.
7. Make a special Sunday dinner
Family dinners are an endangered practice in today’s mobile, rapid-paced world. Consider setting aside four special Sunday dinners during the season of Advent and make them a special part of your family’s celebration of the season. Sundays often work best for this as many families tend to have quieter Sunday evenings compared with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the week. If you are using an Advent wreath, you might talk with your family about the themes of Advent (hope, peace, joy, love; see here for more information) before or after the meal.
8. Accent your home with Advent colors
This is a third way of involving your senses in the season of Advent. The traditional Advent colors are either purple or royal blue. Having this contrast against the predominant reds and greens of the wider culture can provide a helpful visual reminder for a people set apart waiting for the completion of God’s work in the world. Popular ways of displaying this color are as a table runner on the dining room table, as a blanket or drape on the back of the family couch, or as wall or window hangings, greeting the family and visitors as they enter the home.
9. Write notes of encouragement
One way of celebrating Advent is by writing notes of encouragement to people in your world. Even without realizing it, the whole world is waiting in eager expectation for the promises of God to be fulfilled. Consider buying a stack of holiday stationery cards and taking a little time each evening to write a note of encouragement. Don’t just write them to the people you know need them; include the people who seem to be doing just fine, too. Often we will find that their smiling faces are a facade and that they needed a little encouragement too. This is a powerful way to help all people (not just fellow Christians) look forward in hope and to remind them that there are people in their lives that see their longing and their need.
10. Participate in Operation Christmas Child or some other seasonal organized mission
Operation Christmas Child is an ongoing effort to serve poor children across the world by providing them with small gifts and basic needs wherever they are. You start with a small box for a girl or boy of a certain age group, then and fill it with toys and other sundry items from a list on the web site, usually costing less than $20 per child. Part of the service is to pray for the recipient, and then as you send the box to its destination, you can track the box’s progress across the world. The delivery of the boxes is not merely a one-time gift but involves a larger program of evangelism and discipleship, bringing many to know the glory and goodness of God.
The Christmas season is filled with similar services opportunities; consider finding one and involving your whole family in becoming part of God’s good work in the world.
- Baby steps for celebrating Advent
- Ten simple ways to celebrate Advent
- Eight super simple ways to celebrate Advent
- Twenty more ways to celebrate the Advent season
Got any great ideas you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments.