‘Tis the season when Advent books and products are everywhere! There are Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, Advent devotionals, Advent Bible studies . . . and the list goes on. But, what exactly is Advent? What does it mean?
In one of his devotionals, my husband describes Advent as “the idea of coming, of expectation.” Christmas celebrates the incredible moment when Jesus, King of creation, left royalty beyond our imagining to come live as the humblest of humans — all for the sake of mankind’s redemption. Our redemption!
When we celebrate Advent, we do more than simply set aside one day to wish Jesus, “Happy birthday!” We reset our focus over the course of the whole season. Nothing can make Christmas more precious than an increased awareness of what Jesus really accomplished by taking on our flesh.
When is Advent?
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and runs through Christmas Day. Because of this, the season can vary in length from twenty-three to thirty-five days, depending on which day of the week Christmas falls.*
Some devotionals and celebration plans also include the Twelve Days of Christmas. No, that is not just an annoying Christmas song! It is, in fact, the time between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6), the day traditionally set aside to honor the Magi’s visit.
How Does One Celebrate Advent?
The celebration is about as varied as the people who celebrate. As long as you are diving into the spiritual significance of the incarnation of Christ on a weekly or daily basis, you are celebrating Advent. But, just in case you need a little more guidance, here are a few suggestions:
Find a Devotional
Advent devotionals range in style from weekly (each of the four Sundays and Christmas Day) to daily. Strive to find one that not only meets your schedule but also has content to appropriately meet your family’s needs.
Light Candles on an Advent Wreath
Advent wreaths, like devotionals, come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. But all Advent wreaths have at least four candle holders. The idea is to light one candle each Sunday of Advent. A fifth, larger candle should fit in the center of the wreath (some wreaths will have a candle holder for the middle). This is the “Jesus” candle, intended to be lit either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Each Sunday, light one candle. If you have chosen an Advent devotional, read the entry for that Sunday. If not, choose a focus for the season and discuss a portion of it each time you light a candle. Here are some ideas:
- people of Advent such as the shepherds, Magi, angels, and Mary & Joseph; or Zacharias & Elizabeth, the innkeeper, Anna, and Simeon
- Messianic prophecies
- topics such as love, joy, peace, and patience, discussing how they relate to Christmas
Use an Advent Calendar
There are Advent calendars designed to open windows to cute pictures each day, create a manger scene, decorate a tree, discover a surprise, play music, and on and on! Whether you choose one of these or create one yourself, let this be more than just a daily countdown to Christmas Day. Let it be a time when you stop in the midst of the busy season and honestly refocus on the true reason for celebration.
Sing a Carol a Day
There are enough fantastic Christmas songs to pick one a day throughout Advent. Every day, sing or listen to one Christ-centered Christmas song as a family. Then discuss what that song communicates about Jesus and his first coming. (This can also take the place of a topical discussion when lighting the Advent wreath.)
In the words of my pastor husband, “You cannot fail Advent.” As long as you take a moment weekly or daily to step back and consider the truth of Christmas, you are appropriately celebrating Advent.
*This year, 2016, Advent began on Sunday, November 27, and runs a full five weeks. But, it’s not too late to start!