There are more reasons to take Advent seriously than there are decorative lights on your Christmas tree. Advent is often overlooked as a pre-game warmup for Christmas, which is unfortunate because it is a rich season for spiritual growth. It launches a suspense-filled journey leading us through the darkness of the world to the hope found in the Christ child. Over the four weeks of Advent, space is made for us to move closer to God’s presence, and to receive the love, mercy and healing our hearts desperately desire.
If you desire something more meaningful than an Amazon gift card can purchase, then I recommend you thoughtfully observe Advent this month. Choose to carve out time from the relentless holiday pace to encounter the holy. Finding this time is easier said than done this time of year, but it is possible to keep the beauty and blessing of Advent from slipping through our fingers. Below I offer five ways to make the most of this season.
1. Practice waiting
Waiting is a radical act in the month of December. Resisting the sprint towards Christmas requires us to go against the grain of popular culture, which is more consumed with unceasing activity than the long and slow journey to Bethlehem. Waiting demands we slow down, open our distracted hearts and make room for the sacred in the middle of the frenzy. It means not rushing to the manger, but absorbing the unfolding story of Scripture that leads us to the birth of the Christ child. Waiting can also mean not singing Christmas hymns the first few weeks of Advent, keeping the tree in the box for a while and setting up the Nativity scene on Christmas Eve. In the end, those who wait are rewarded with the deeper satisfaction of growing closer to God rather than the empty feeling associated with holiday exhaustion.
2. Find a devotional
Daily devotionals encourage deeper thought and reflection. Choose a challenging devotional, something outside your comfort zone that causes you to closely examine your spiritual life. Richard Rohr’s “Preparing for Christmas” is guiding me this Advent, but there are many other resources. Select one and build a regular time, fifteen to thirty minutes, into your daily schedule. Before you open the devotional take a deep breath, consider meditating on the suggested scriptures, think deeply about the author’s writing and reflect on how it intersects with your life. If you don’t have that much time to spare, read the devotional as long as it takes you to finish your cup of morning coffee. A few focused minutes of devotion goes a long way!
3. Write in a journal
If you choose to use a devotional guide, then I encourage you to journal. A blank page reserved for your scattered thoughts and raw feelings will help you to move to a deeper place. The daily refection is bound to shake loose emotions and thoughts that you’ve kept below the surface, which is why it’s helpful to provide an outlet for whatever rises up. Find an appealing journal and a favorite pen or create a private blog online to record your progress through the season. Use the freedom of the blank pages to be vulnerable before God. Another reason to journal is that it will serve as a reminder in years to come of the struggle you experienced and the ways God was present in your life during these moments; it will give you perspective on your growth and hopefully inspire you to continue on your spiritual journey.
4. Join a small group
While a personal devotional and journal are helpful, sharing Advent with others is a meaningful way to experience the season. Try joining or starting a small group during Advent that will give you a place to offer your struggles and reflections for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. An organized small group focused on the themes of Advent can take you to a place that cannot be reached on your own; it can build relationships that enrich and sustain your spiritual life. Include an appropriate book or devotional for the group, and consider structuring the time together around another activity. One of the most successful Advent activities I’ve experienced was a weekly soup and discussion group.
5. Create a ritual
There are several meaningful traditions surrounding the season of Advent. One way to embrace the season is the Advent wreath, which offers a beautiful symbol to mark the journey to the arrival of the Christ child. Wreaths, used both in homes and worship spaces, contain special candles that are lit alongside guided Scripture readings and prayers. If you are searching for a unique ritual, create your own meaningful activity. A colleague shared with me a creative idea her congregation is embracing this Advent. The ritual involves passing statuettes of Mary and Joseph from household to household. Each home is invited to sign up for a day or more to host the holy family as they make their way to Bethlehem for the birth of the Christ. When it is time to pass the statuettes to another family they are invited to celebrate with them over coffee, singing, prayer, etc. Another colleague offered the thoughtful idea of creating a personal Advent calendar for your home that lists an act of kindness each day for your family to carry out.
I offer these ideas to help you make the most of Advent. They are only a few of the meaningful ways to experience the season. I am curious to hear your ideas. What would you add to this list? I invite you to share rituals, practices and ideas that have helped you move deeper into Advent as you patiently wait for the coming of the Christ child.