Five Advent Rituals for Individuals and Families
The season of Advent begins this Sunday, and it has become my tradition to share a list of recommendations that may enhance your observance of this only time over the next four weeks. I’ve continued to edit this list over the years as you all have shared your Advent practices with me.
But before we go any further we should probably define "Advent." The word simply means "coming" from the Latin word "adventus." You are missing out if you don't go to a church that celebrates this season. It is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but Christians as early as the 4th and 5th centuries used it as a time of preparation before being baptized on the Feast of the Epiphany (twelve days after Christmas). Advent over the centuries has been a wonderful season that reminds Christians of the value of waiting, which is usually hard for us to do.
Advent is my favorite season of the Church calendar for many reasons, but most of all because it challenges everything Black Friday and our oversaturated consumer culture stands for. It has so much more to teach us than simply preparing us for Christmas. As Christians in America, we need to hear the challenging--even apocalyptic--Scripture readings presented to us during this holy season. These readings root us in the reality that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ [will most definitely] come again.” You can find all the appointed readings here. Advent calls us to prepare for our Lord's return, but rather than arriving lowly in a manger, next time he will come in power and great glory.
Let's be intentional as we wait for Christmas, and ultimately for his second Advent when he will come to be our Judge. Here are five recommendations for how you, as an individual or a family, can thoughtfully and prayerfully journey through this season.
1) Find Some Good Resources
Finding a devotional is always a good way to start. If you aren’t much of a daily devotional person, finding one that only goes for the four weeks of Advent may be manageable. Last year I found The Advent Project, a daily email devotional done by Biola University. I was so impressed by how they incorporated art and music into their short theological writings. I look forward to what they have in store this year.
Some other options are:
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas which includes short writings from many of the great Christian writers over the centuries.
Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent by Walter Brueggemann.
Advent for Everyone by the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright.
Preparing for Christmas by the Franciscan author Richard Rohr.
Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany by the priest and poet Malcolm Guite.
The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany by Jane Willaims.
If you are looking for a more substantial work on Advent I highly recommend Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge. It is a collection of sermons that she preached over the years during this holy season. Reading sermons may not interest you, but I will say her work has shaped my love for Advent more than anyone else. She helped me appreciate the apocalyptic themes found throughout this season. The book is worth the 20+ page introduction. You can listen to my three-part conversation with her on The Wayside Podcast (Ep. 1, Ep. 2, and Ep. 3).
Be on the lookout for our newest Advent episodes on The Wayside Podcast which will be available every Thursday.
2) Pray Through the Season
Consider praying the Collect that can be found in the Book of Common Prayer. What is a Collect? These short prayers sum up the theme for each week in Advent, and they are some of the most beautiful prayers in our prayer book. Here they are below if you would like to add them to your daily prayers through the season.
First Sunday of Advent, “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Second Sunday of Advent, "Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
Third Sunday of Advent, "Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen."
Fourth Sunday of Advent, "Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
3) Bring Light Out of Darkness
Having an Advent wreath at home can be a powerful symbol for both young and old. Lighting a candle for each week is a great way to mark our journey through the season, and adding another dimension like reading a piece of Scripture or even praying the Collect from that given Sunday can make the whole experience feel more sacred. Another option, if you are musically inclined, is to sing a verse or two of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" as you light the candles. Many churches will sing this every Sunday, adding a verse each week. Doing all of this in the dark encompasses one of the great themes of Advent which is light and darkness. We are reminded that Jesus came to give light to the world.
4) Prepare the Scene
Having a crèche (Nativity scene) in your home can be another great visual, but it loses its power if all the usual characters are present during Advent. I know someone who keeps baby Jesus in a drawer in their kitchen until Christmas Eve. Consider adding different characters to the scene throughout Advent, but save the wise men for Epiphany (January 6). Also, think about doing a short blessing over the Christmas tree or crèche. A great one for the tree can be found here. Click here for the crèche.
5) Introduce St. Nick
If you have children you may want to begin shifting your focus to St. Nicholas rather than Santa Claus. He was the Bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey in the fourth century, and there are many myths about him. He still is a symbol of generosity, gift-giving, and a father figure. St. Nicholas reminds us of our Heavenly Father who gives us all good gifts. St. Nick's feast day on the Church calendar is December 6th. There are some creative ways your family could celebrate that day as a foretaste of Christmas. One way is to make cookies shaped like St. Nick with his bishop's mitre. Also, doing a kind act to each family member like setting the table or helping with dinner could be a way for your kids to live in the spirit of St. Nick.
These are just a few options that you could do as an individual or with your family. The key is to be intentional through this holy season. If you want more ideas for children and families then I highly recommend, To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gertrud Nelson. If you're tired of the same old commercialism this December, then think about some thoughtful ways you can journey through Advent. This is truly too special of a season to go unnoticed.
May God bless you as you journey through the next four weeks. Let me know how it goes!