For many of you never left it. For those involved in Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and other denominations that have adhered to the liturgy, you have been enjoying the long-standing Advent tradition since the 4th century.
Not so for me. Raised in a Baptist church and educated at an evangelical university, I knew next to nothing about Advent even though I had been a Christian all my life. That is, until the last decade or so.
The number of evangelical, Protestant and non-denominational congregations that have historically leaned away from the liturgy to celebrate Advent is increasing. Over the past 10 years, we have seen an increased interest in Advent within the institutions associated with these denominations. Churches, schools and para-church organizations have begun to embrace aspects of Advent celebrations.
Why does this return occur? Because these practices are soul-serving and draw us away from the spirit-suffocating societal frenzy and into the quiet, where we can commune with God.
What is Advent?
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, so depending on the year it can range from 22-28 days. It is a time of anticipation and longing. It is a time not only to marvel at Christ’s first coming, but also to join in the longing for His return and His rule. It is a time to engage in the spiritual practices of worship, generosity and repentance and to receive hope, peace, joy and love. It is a time to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3).
In the church, each Sunday corresponds to one of the four Advent themes: hope, peace, joy and love. Candles are lit on the Advent wreath and specific scriptures are read. Many families continue these practices in their homes throughout the season.
If you’re new to Advent, it’s a safe assumption that Advent and Christmas have bled together to reflect much of the prevailing culture. Thanksgiving to December 25th is a Christmas blur, culminating on the 25th with a (hopefully) magical day. It’s a frenzy. And while it’s filled with festivities, it can leave us feeling empty and like we’ve missed the whole point.
Intentionally practicing Advent helps break this cycle. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to completely break away from the celebration of Christmas, it can be refreshingly counter-cultural to make the distinction between Advent and Christmas in your own home.
Any part of life that is countercultural is inherently more difficult. If you’re new to Advent, like I was the last few years, try these three methods to get started.
Set your intention
The beginning of Advent marks the beginning of the new year in the Christian calendar. Just as we make New Year’s resolutions as we embark on a new year or Lent resolutions of fasting and prayer, Advent is an opportunity to align our spiritual intentions. As you enter the Advent and Christmas seasons, how do you want your spiritual posture to be? Do you want to be more consistent in reading the Word and praying? What steps can you take to move toward simplicity, generosity, and worship? How can you embrace the four themes of hope, peace, joy and love and reflect these themes to those around you? How you answer these questions may reveal what you choose to nurture this season. Do your best to create space to allow your new intention to take root.
Find a good devotional
Give your spiritual walk a little extra care during Advent. Deliberately engaging in a little spiritual practice over the next four weeks can do wonders to keep you centered and focused when the world is doing its best to keep you distracted, rushed, and buying. Keep it to a small goal of 5-10 minutes a day to make it easier to maintain.
Some of my favorite devotions in Advent are:
- “Honest Advent” (Scott Erickson): Not only does this book have a short but powerful read for each day in December, but it also includes contemplative artwork to help you reflect. Approaching the birth of Jesus in a fresh and grounded way, Erickson explores the perfect Son of God walking into the dirt and mess of humanity.
- “The Advent Project of Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts” (CCCA): This is a wonderful option for someone who would appreciate breaking away from the traditional “book form” devotional. Every year CCCA collects media that guide and help your quiet time. You are immersed in music, visual arts, film and poetry to interact with the coming of Christ. You can check out this year’s compilation here for the 2022 Advent project.
- “The Best Gift of All” (by yours truly): Shameless plug here, but Advent is for kids too, so I had to include them. This book unpacks our current Christmas symbols and traditions and helps children connect them in a meaningful way to the story of Jesus’ coming. It also includes kid-friendly readings and activities for the 12 Days of Christmas, which brings me to the next point.
Consider celebrating Christmas for the full 12 days
Christmas is a really big deal, which is why we struggle to wait until December 25th to start celebrating. The moment Halloween is over, the stores immediately start bringing out the Christmas decorations. December is filled with Christmas festivities, from parties to children’s programs. It is difficult to let the spiritual lesson of waiting and longing take root deep in our souls when we are not actually waiting; we are already celebrating.
Christmas usurping Advent is unlikely to change, but it’s easier to slow down and approach Christmas with less pressure if you know it won’t all happen in one day. Choosing to celebrate Christmas from December 25 to January 6 – the Epiphany – not only extends the celebration, but gives Advent the space it deserves.
Keeping your Christmas decorations up until January 6th, taking away your presents and spending extra time with loved ones during this period are all great ways to incorporate an extended Christmas tradition.
These simple steps are a good place to start for those new to the Advent practice. If you want to dive even deeper, check out more articles on The Federalist by searching “Advent.” I found them extremely helpful in my own journey to discover Advent and incorporate it for myself and my family.
Heather Martin is a Christian, wife, mother and author. Her debut book, “The Best Gift of All,” explores the interplay between faith and modern Christmas traditions so families can help children understand the spiritual meaning behind our current practices. She explores topics such as faith, parenting and early childhood education. You can follow her on Instagram @bestgiftofall.