We are now in the season of Advent. If you’re not quite sure what this means, you may want to read my online article: What is Advent? An Introduction to Advent. But, if you’re ready to let Advent be a time of drawing near to God, then let me suggest some specific activities you might choose to do.
Pay Attention to the Advent Content of Corporate Worship
If your church celebrates Advent, be ready to pay close attention to the readings, prayers, songs, and seasonal pageantry (like the lighting of the Advent wreath). Your intentionality in worship can infuse your whole life with Advent expectation.
Many churches, even if they don’t plunge into the depths of Advent, nevertheless wade into Advent themes in their pre-Christmas worship. They use readings from the Old Testament prophets or sing Advent carols like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The more you pay attention to these Advent elements, the more your personal experience will be enriched.
If your church doesn’t acknowledge Advent, you may decide to talk with your pastor or worship leader about it. But, please, be kind and encouraging! Throughout my years as a parish pastor, I found it much easier to receive “Here’s something I find exciting!” than “Here’s what you’re doing wrong!”
Enjoy Advent Music
This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, unfortunately. There are hundreds of popular Christmas songs and carols, played everywhere during Advent, from churches, to gas stations and shopping malls. There are comparatively few Advent songs, though many songs and carols do touch upon Advent themes of waiting, hoping, and yearning for God.
If you enjoy classical music, there are a few Advent albums available, including:
Advent at St. Paul’s. This is my current favorite of the bunch.
The first part of the so-called “Christmas portion” Handel’s Messiah is filled with Advent themes (from the beginning through “The People That Walked in Darkness”). This is probably the most readily available and familiar classical Advent music. My favorite recording of the Messiah is the Academy of Ancient Music version conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
If you’re looking for more contemporary Advent music, you’ll have to look pretty hard. There just isn’t much out there that is specifically focused on Advent and its themes. I have found one more contemporary Advent CD. Actually, it combines Advent music with Lenten music. Prepare the Way of the Lord by David Phillips contains 18 instrumental tracks, half dedicated to Advent, the other half dedicated to Lent. This is a wonderful collection of music by an accomplished Christian pianist. You can purchase the CD from Amazon, or you can download an MP3 version from David Phillips’ website.
In the past few years, I have come to enjoy listening to instrumental versions of Christmas hymns and carols during Advent. I save the Christmas lyrics for later on. My favorite recordings are by Jeff Johnson and his collaborators. Some of Jeff’s renditions appeared on Windham Hill collections in the past. Jeff has several Christmas albums. My favorite is A Quiet Knowing Christmas. Its simplicity and elegance helps draw me close to God. You can purchase Jeff’s marvelous Christmas music from his website, from iTunes, or from Amazon.
Use an Advent Wreath in Your Home
You can get Advent wreath kits online or from most Christian bookstores. But you can easily make your own with a wreath (natural or artificial) and five candles. (Photo: The Advent wreath in my home.)
If you aren’t sure what to do with an Advent wreath, I’ve written a guide that you can access by clicking here. Feel free to adapt it as you see fit, or to use it in ministry settings.
Let Your Nativity Scene Function as an Advent Calendar
I have not done this before, but I have friends who do. They have nativity scenes with lots of characters. They time the setting up of their nativity scene so that they add one character each day, adding the Christ child on Christmas (or Christmas Eve). This can also be a wonderful family tradition that involves each member, especially younger children.
Dress for Advent
It’s common for people to wear Christmas colors throughout the month of December, so why not Advent colors? I used to do this when I led worship at Irvine Presbyterian Church, wearing a purple tie in the more traditional services and a purple sweater in the contemporary services. These days, I wear purple ties to work during the first part of Advent, before I transition to Christmas ties (which I won’t get to wear unless I use them in the days leading up to Christmas).
Focus in Your Personal Devotions on Advent Themes
There are many texts, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, that express Advent themes. By reading and meditating on these passages you’ll enhance your Advent experience of God. Some possibilities for Advent Bible readings can be found in my Advent Devotional Guide.
Do Acts of Kindness and Justice that Inflame Your Hope for God’s Future
Advent is a season to consider both “advents” of Jesus. When Jesus comes again as a victorious King, he will usher in the Kingdom of God with all of its blessings. God’s peace and justice will fill the earth. There will be no more sorrow or tears. People will turn implements of war into tools to produce food, and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). It’s easy for those of us who live in safety, comfort, and prosperity to neglect a godly hope for the coming of the kingdom and all of its benefits. Yet, this hope can be inflamed within us when we reach out to share life with and care for people in need, for the hungry and homeless, for victims of injustice and oppression, for those who suffer from sickness or sadness. Advent can be a time to touch those in need, not only so that we might share God’s love with them, but also so that our yearning for the kingdom might be renewed within us.
Tomorrow I’ll add one more way to observe Advent. This I count as my greatest Advent discovery. And, once again, if you’re looking for more information on Advent, see my online article: What is Advent? An Introduction to Advent.