Every year at the beginning of Advent, I am perplexed. How do I practice Advent? Is there something I can do to make Advent more meaningful? What Is the significance of Advent and how can I put it into an intentional practice?
I grew up in a Liturgical church where Advent was an important time during the Church year. However, I have spent a good deal of time the last 30 years within Evangelical circles, and Advent was not particularly celebrated. Recently I’ve noticed a shift in thinking, and Advent is making a comeback. Devotionals are popping up all over the place. People are putting up pictures on Facebook of Advent wreaths. Like many, I have a desire to make the Advent season authentic and significant in my life, but how?
Maybe you feel the same way. Perhaps together we can look at Advent and discover it’s meaning.
When I was young, my family moved from Michigan to Hershey, Pennsylvania. We had never heard of the town of Hershey, we just knew about the chocolate bar. What a wonderful surprise the town turned out to be! True to its name, chocolate was everywhere. The light posts were fashioned to look like Hershey Kisses. And on certain days, the smell of chocolate permeated the town. Absolute agony for those of us sitting in our classrooms just before lunch.
Because of leaving so many relatives behind and living in a tourist town, we had a lot of visitors. I remember my mom going into a flurry of preparations as she made the house ready for our guests. She cleaned, cooked, and did any kind of sprucing up that she perceived the house needed for our guests to be comfortable while they visited. On our part, my sisters and I would wait with barely concealed excited expectation for our guests to arrive. Often the moment of arrival was more joyful than we anticipated.
As I look back on those days, I see a correlation with the idea of Advent. The dictionary describes advent as “coming or arrival”. With this idea in mind, Advent becomes a time of preparation, waiting, and hope for the coming of Christ.
In Biblical times, people of faith were expecting the arrival of the Messiah. They waited in eager anticipation for him to come and restore the kingdom back to the glories and prestige of the reigns of David and Solomon. In some ways, these people prepared for this to happen as they studied and knew what signs to look for with this coming King.
In Christianity, we do much the same. We prepare and anticipate for the anniversary of the coming of Christ at Christmas. But we also live in anticipation for the return of Christ as he said he would.
But, again, how do I give meaning to this busy season of Advent? Is there a spiritual focus that I can concentrate on in this season? So difficult in this time of intense activity.
I think the Liturgical churches have something to offer in this regard. They take each of the four Sundays in Advent and highlight in the worship service a different aspect of the season. That is why the Advent wreath can be so helpful. It stands as an explanation and a reminder of the meanings behind each Sunday.
The first Sunday is often called the Sunday of hope. Just as my sisters and I could hardly wait for our relatives to arrive at our house, so can we, in Advent, live in a state of anticipation. The Old Testament Prophets and people looked forward with expectation towards the coming Messiah, much like how we look forward to Christmas. This week of Advent can be a time of reflection, focusing on the texts where the coming of Messiah was foretold, and Jesus’ own words about returning.
Review these verses: (Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53: 3-7, John 14:3, Revelations 22:12) What are you anticipating during this Advent season? Where do you find hope in these passages? How could you establish this hope in your life?
The second Sunday of Advent is a time of preparation. John the Baptist is often used in the text because his message to people was to prepare themselves for the coming of Christ. We can use this time as a preparation. My mom would prepare for our guests in a variety of ways with cleaning, shopping and cooking. In much the same way, we do this as part of the Christmas season. But is there more than just the cookies, gifts, and frenzy we associate with the Christmas season? What would it look like for you to prepare your heart and soul for the coming of Christ?
Meditate on these verses as you consider the above question. (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:1-3)
Joy is the theme for the third Sunday. There is a great deal of joy associated when expectation is realized. When our guests drove up the hill and parked in the driveway, we became giddy at seeing family after so long. I think of being a mother, and finally seeing the little person you had growing inside of you. There was joy in Mary, simply being a mother, but with Mary there was the additional joy of meeting this promised child. I anticipate there will be great joy when Christ returns. We will be participants in the promises given to us, just as Mary was. Below is a link to a choir singing called Guadete , which means Joy:
Consider these questions: What brings you joy? Can you identify periods in your life that have brought you great joy? Why did they bring you joy? How can you find joy in this hectic season?
The final Sunday in Advent has love as it’s theme. This is meant to be a celebration of Mary being told she was chosen to be the mother of Christ. Love is throughout the Christmas story. We can look at the love of God for sending his son to this earth. The love of Joseph in protecting Mary and raising Jesus as his own. The love of Mary for being willing to accept the disgrace of being an unwed mother. We can also contemplate the love of Jesus who came to redeem the world. Each of these involves sacrifice, all within the realm of love.
Contemplate the song Mary sung after the visitation of the angel: Luke 1:46-55
Advent can be more than the frenzy of activity before Christmas that often leaves us hollow and disappointed the day after. We can celebrate the season with authenticity, if we take a few minutes each day focusing on the meaning of Advent and what significance the aspects of hope (expectation and anticipation), preparation, joy and love have for us in accord with the coming of Christ at Christmas, and with his future return. May God bless you richly with new awareness this season!