New to Advent? Here are a few ways to learn about this season and make it special.
- Light the candles. During Advent, we light candles – one for each of the four Sundays and one for Christmas Day. The four Sunday candles each represent a theme of the season. Traditional themes include hope (purple), peace (purple), joy (pink), and love (purple). Sometimes there are other themes associated with these four candles (see this Advent devotional guide for another take). The white Christ candle is reserved for Christmas Day. Use the candles with the Advent wreath or by themselves. Either way, this simple practice puts our attention on our journey toward Christ.
- Learn the bigger story. Follow the lectionary to broaden your picture of Christmas. Advent moves us beyond the manger and the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke to a much wider story, one that ranges from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament vision for the second coming of Christ. Understanding and experiencing the full story matures our hope and expectations beyond our incomplete vision of Christmas and invites us into God’s bigger vision for the world.
- Get an Advent devotional guide. Beyond the lectionary, find a Bible reading plan for the season or other kind of devotional guide. Though there are plenty out there to suit your personality and theological preference, look for something that will broaden your thoughts about the season. For starters, see my own devotional guide. How Advent Saved Christmas reflects my own experience of how celebrating Advent helped me recover the joy of the Christmas story.
- Decorate the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree features ornaments that remind us the stories of the Bible. Not just for kids, decorating this tree offers people of all ages the opportunity to remember and retell God’s great story. Each ornament is an opportunity for prayer and thanksgiving. Though you can buy them ready to hang, use the opportunity to make your own. Use these ornaments as gifts to others who might need to remember the great things God has done.
- Mute the commercials and manage the store mailers. The goals of advertising make this a good practice year-round. The intensity of Christmas advertising makes this practice especially important as it tends to create needs we never knew we had before. Take the effort to mute the noise of commercials and minimize the visual distraction of catalogues. You will be surprised about how much more of your heart you can give to others when it is not focused on your own desires.
- Create your own playlist. Take a break from the typical Christmas radio playlists of overplayed favorites. When you do you homework on Advent themes, you will find “Christmas” songs beyond the genre.
- Read an Advent story. Christmas stories (and movies) abound. Look for something that goes beyond goofiness, romance, or even “the perfect Christmas.” Some of my favorites include Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon, Alabaster’s Song and The Children of the King, both by Max Lucado. This year I’m going to read the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol for the first time.
- Read with children. Children’s Christmas books are sometimes the best way to bring back the simplicity of the season as well as to create a genuine giving moment. Do this in Advent calendar fashion. Do this in Advent calendar fashion and read a different book each night of the season. Take time with your own or invite a young family over for a special evening.
- Connect with Advent Conspiracy. This movement features four Advent themes: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all. They have ideas and resources to help you and your family and/or your church put these important themes into practice. They even have a Spotify playlist that will give you new ideas for your own.
- Remember those who suffer and grieve. The longer we live, the more we become aware that the season many call “the most wonderful time of year” is not wonderful for everyone. The first Sunday theme of Advent is hope. Carry this theme throughout the season as you come across or intentionally reach out to those who suffer and grieve. By doing so, you become a light to help them navigate their darkness toward peace, joy, love, and especially Jesus.
- Give creatively and unexpectedly. Gifts under the tree are expected. Cultivate your generosity by finding ways to give in unexpected ways: visit someone, prepare a meal, make a handmade gift, or share your time. Do this on your own, as a family, or with some friends.
Need more ideas. Check out “What is Advent?” by Mark D. Roberts.