I remember the first time someone tried to explain to me what Advent was. “Advent is like Lent,” they said–as if that wouldn’t confuse me further.
Of course, I was familiar with probably the two most common symbols of Advent – the candles and the calendar. Those make sense, since they are both ways of marking the passing of time while we eagerly wait for Christ’s coming. But what really is Advent? And why does it matter?
If you haven’t already read about what each week stands for, here is a practical explanation of the big picture: Advent: A Week-by-Week Guide to Re-Orienting Our Craving. And for the history nerds among us, you can find a very brief history of Advent on The Gospel Coalition.
But today I’d like to talk about how can we participate? Whether it’s been many years since you’ve participated in lent or it’s your first time, here are a few ways that I find especially meaningful:
1. A Daily Emailed Devotional. A good one is The Advent Project by Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts. When you subscribe, you’ll get a daily Advent email containing a fresh mix of Scripture, art, poetry, and other beautiful explanations of God’s grace at work in the world. It’s something to look forward to as you start your morning or take your lunch break. And if you prefer not to cross your devotional life with email, the internet, or anything digital, then check out the daily devotional book Saving Grace:Daily Devotions from Jack Miller But I like to set a reminder to actually read it each morning or else I’ll sometimes forget. That’s what makes the devotional by email so helpful.
2. Put On Some Good Christmas Advent Music. I recently tried playing Handel’s Messiah for my toddler the other day and he insisted we change the song. I think it’s fair to say that vibrato-style singing is apparently not his jam. But my toddler is all about Sandra McCracken’s (and friends’) band Rain for Roots. And actually, so am I. They have an album called Waiting Songs that emphasizes the waiting aspect of Advent instead of simply jumping the gun to the Christmas celebration. Lord knows we are all terrible at waiting (whether it looks like procrastination or impulsiveness) so these songs make such a subject a lot more fun, while still packing profound insights about the biblical story and our daily reality into delightful melodies.
3. Meditative Reading. The collection of writings compiled in Waiting for the Light features a wide array of insightful writing from the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, poets John Donne and T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as C. S. Lewis, and the former Christianity Today editor Philip Yancey. This book works well on a cozy Sunday afternoon with a journal and your phone on Airplane Mode.
4. Practicing Forgiveness. Whether it is unfair remarks at a holiday party or the way a colleague can create extra work right when our families are expecting us at home or the age-old family feuds that remain barely hidden under the surface at Christmas dinner—there are many opportunities for us to practice forgiveness between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And it’s forgiveness that brings us near to appreciating God’s incredible love for us in sending His beloved Son to a rebellious people. With that in mind, Ruth Ann Batstone’s recently-released book on forgiveness called Moving On is a page-turner. Its practical advice and examples shed light on the dark corners of our hearts and our relationships that were hardening through lack of forgiveness. This is quite the opposite of Jesus’ mother Mary whose beautiful, life-wide-open response to God is celebrated in the Advent season. Practicing forgiveness isn’t always easy, but it’s an especially meaningful way to participate in Advent.
5. Actually Use Your Church’s Advent Guide. Or if your church doesn’t have one, here is one that focuses on the women in Jesus’ genealogy—“his mothers” so to speak—from some friends at Redeemer in Winston Salem. And here is another that includes a great explanation of the candles on the Advent wreath from some friends at Resurrection Brooklyn. For those of us who may have not participated in Advent for years, if at all, a guide can come in handy.
Robert Webber once said, “Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power.”
At Serge, we hope for us and we hope for you that this Advent is one of surprises, renewal, and restoration in your life and the life of your community.