As a young, newly married pastor, I had grandiose plans for how Micah, my husband, and I would form new traditions around Christmas. I read of an idea – most likely from scrolling for a prolonged period of time on Pinterest – that a brilliant way to count down to Christmas was to create your own Advent calendar.
From scratch, I used my limited artistic creativity to not only make and hang an assembled Advent calendar but to also come up with twenty-five individual acts of celebrating Christmas. I made it a week before realizing I was putting unrealistic expectations on the Christmas season that only hindered my ability to be present with the people around me, and even more with the presence of Jesus.
Several years ago, after observing how cluttered the Christmas season can become, I intentionally chose to study, reflect, and then practice observing the season of Advent. Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas and the start of the liturgical church calendar. This sacred season is a time to enter the story of God’s people waiting, hoping, and expecting the coming of the Messiah. Memories of my siblings and I being dressed in our Sunday best as my family took their turn reading the Advent prayer and lighting the candles at church joined new memories and practices of engaging Advent, not the frantic race towards Christmas day.
Advent, like any other spiritual practice, includes purposeful decisions. Whether embracing Advent in its sacredness is common or new for you, I encourage you to embrace slowing down, creating a daily Advent practice, and living generously.
In order to live in the awareness of Jesus – Emmanuel God with us – we must be willing to slow down. Jesus is constantly present and speaking to us, but often we live fast-paced lives that do not create room for the opportunity to encounter Jesus.
This season, say no to something. Whether it is a tradition that causes too much stress, a calendar commitment, or overspending, the practice of slowing our decision-making process and leaving more margin as we fill our calendars this season can be a spiritual practice of discernment and worship. As we slow down, we are primed to be reminded by the Holy Spirit of what matters most in this season of seeking the presence of Jesus, not a filled-to-the-brim schedule, spending beyond our means, and seeking perfection.
Creating a Daily Advent Practice
Slowing down leads us to savoring the Advent season. We often think of Advent as churches lighting special candles each Sunday. Advent is not only the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, but it is the entire season, seven days each week. In our home we set up the Christmas tree, hang the stockings, bake Christmas cookies, and place the Advent wreath in the center of our table.
Each evening we light the according candles and read a passage of Scripture and an Advent devotional. It takes less than five minutes, but it serves as a reminder each evening that we are waiting, hoping, and expecting the coming of Jesus.
Micah and I are teaching our son that the season is not only about his upcoming school pageant, gifts under the tree, or walking around the neighborhood to see Christmas lights, but it is most importantly a season to experience the presence of Jesus in a new way.
If you are interested in creating a new practice in your home with family, housemates, or even for yourself, you will need five candles to begin – one for each week of Advent and one called the Christ Candle that can be lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. They are often arranged in a circle, but you can be creative or buy a wire Advent candle holder online and decorate it with inflammable objects or greens even from around your home.
Then, each night of Advent, light the number of candles that correspond to the week of Advent. Light the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The practice of lighting the candles and watching the early candles drip almost to nothing by Christmas day is all part of embodying the journey towards Christmas.
As we slow down and savor, we then are more likely to live generously among neighbors, friends, strangers, and family. This season compels us to bless others because we are free from the social and cultural pressures to spend more and can turn our generosity toward others.
You can bless others with finances but perhaps giving your time will be more of a holy sacrifice. Can you spend your time blessing neighbors by crossing the street and seeing how they are doing? Could your family or housemates deliver treats to remind someone that they are not forgotten? Could you simplify gift giving or the expectation of receiving gifts so that even $5 could be given to someone else?
Longing for a Savior
Slowing down, creating a daily Advent practice, and living generously lead us to realize that we are not only remembering the coming of the Messiah in the form of an infant; but we are also longing, hoping, and waiting for Jesus our Lord and Savior to heal, restore, provide, end injustice, and reconcile our longings and brokenness.
When we begin to engage in the sacredness of the Advent season, we come to realize again that life is not about what we can produce, do, or get but is solely in the presence, story, and transformation found in Jesus. May we be people who enjoy the trappings of the season. Let us also be people who respond to Jesus’ holy beckoning of us to rest and wait for him in our deepest longings, pains, and hopes.