Advent is upon us — This is my favorite time of year!
In 2007, my friend Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence and I put together an article for Today’s Christian Woman magazine full of ideas for observing Advent in creative ways. Sure, it’s three years old . . . but I think the ideas are still great. My family enjoys observing many of them each December.
So, without further ado, here’s the first installment for your consideration.
The Adventure of Advent: 10 Easy Ideas for Transforming the Season
(Joy-Elizabeth) What’s on your Christmas to-do list? As a self-described over-achiever, here’s some things I’ve had on my list in preparation for Christmases past:
- Unpack, organize, and artistically arrange 5 boxes of Christmas decorations. Buy fresh greenery from the farmer’s market. Put candles everywhere.
- Cut a conical fir in a snowy farm somewhere up north, then put it up peacefully with my husband Justin while listening to traditional Christmas music and eating homemade treats.
- Bake mini-loaves of sweetbread, chocolate sandwich cookies with mint filling, and those mini pecan pies. Deliver the treats to my entire block (while caroling), bring some to all my co-workers, and ship a box or two to relatives who live outside the country.
- Lose 5 pounds so I don’t have bra bulge under the festive red dress I still have to buy.
- Think of and select That Perfect Gift that lights up Justin’s eyes with That Look of Love
- Write a terrific, newsy holiday letter that won’t bore anyone and enclose that picture of me (in the red dress) and Justin after I gave him That Perfect Gift.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? But in the past few years I’ve been discovering the lost tradition of Advent, which makes my list about as useful as a piece of kindling. Here’s the secret: Advent isn’t “pre-Christmas.” It’s not about perfection, it’s about waiting. It’s not about light yet, it’s about darkness. It’s not about me and bra bulge, or impressing people with my baking skills or superb prosaic form letters. It’s not even about the birth of Christ (yet), but it’s about our need, as human beings, to be redeemed, to be made whole. It’s about waiting for Jesus right now-waiting for Him to come again as He promised. And once I started to learn this about Advent, I gave up my fight with The List.
Like many Christian practices, Advent holds multiple meanings. We are waiting for Christ’s return. We remember the Hebrew people who waited for the Messiah, Jesus. We remember Mary’s wait (and weight, I suppose), as she expected her mysterious first-born son. We remember what John the Baptist said in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord! John’s cry is pertinent to both stories-he announces Christ then and now. Advent is an observance of eschatological hope-hope for the future. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Advent corresponds with some of the darkest and dreariest days of the year. But as the sun grows, we celebrate the son who came to redeem the world.
Most of us don’t like darkness. We like light and happy songs; we don’t like shadows or dirges. But how can we celebrate light if we have never experienced darkness? How can we rejoice if we have not thought about sin or shame? How can we be saved if we do not know we are in danger? Advent also teaches us to wait. We wait to celebrate. We wait for Jesus to return. This waiting in Advent has traditionally been associated with abstinence from foods or other pleasures so that Christians may better focus on prayer and reflection on the hope of Christ. Finally, Advent is a time of preparation. During Advent, we ready our hearts for Christ.
Sometimes, when I start discussing Advent with people who’ve never observed it before, there’s genuine and significant concern about putting one’s family into shock-especially if traditions in December are centered around Christmas. But there’s no need to throw out all your rituals and alienate yourself from others. Instead, discuss the spiritual significance of Advent with family members and invite them on the journey with you. Consider moving Christmas traditions to Christmas day and the eleven days that follow. What you’ll be doing is extending-not short-changing-the season.
This winter, embrace a few simple practices and observances that will prepare your heart and mind for twelve days of big celebration that begin-not end-on December 25. Advent is always observed four Sundays before Christmas. This year, it begins on December 2. Along with traditional activities like an Advent wreath or calendar, here are 10 creative ways you can grow spiritually during the Advent season.
1. Mark Mary and Joseph’s Journey
Set up your Nativity scene by gathering the animals around the manger. Then place Mary and Joseph in the farthest spot possible from “Bethlehem,” such as your bedroom closet or a shelf in the garage. Daily move Mary and Joseph closer to the Nativity scene throughout Advent until they arrive at “Bethlehem” Christmas Eve. If you have children, they’ll love inching Mary and Joseph closer each day via the toy box, the piano, and the kitchen cabinets! Remember to keep baby Jesus stowed away until Christmas morning.
2. Hum a New Tune
This may be a tough one for those of you have “Away in a Manger” as the constant soundtrack through the entire month of December, but it’s worth trying! Choose to wait until Christmas to listen to Christmas music (and when the 25th comes, belt out your favorite carols with all your heart!). Instead, make a CD or playlist with songs appropriate for Advent.
Don’t know any Advent songs? Check out http://www.cyberhymnal.org and click on “Advent” under the topics search option.
3. Darken Your Dinners
Transform your family meals by turning off all electric lights during dinner. Begin each meal with John 1:9, then eat by candlelight and use the experience to think about the darkness of life without Christ. Discuss what it means to wait for Jesus, the light of the world. To observe the Advent fast, you may also choose to eat simple meals during Advent meals as a way to focus on waiting for the Christmas feast.
STAY TUNED… MORE IDEAS NEXT WEEK!
(copyright 2007, Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence & Kelli B. Trujillo)