Anticipating Jesus

Do you celebrate Advent? Growing up outside the church, I looked forward to Christmas because of the cookies we’d make, the decorating we’d do, and, most of all, the pile of presents I expected to receive Christmas morning. Christmas was great, but it had nothing to do with a baby born in Bethlehem.

Once I became a Christian, Christmas took on new meaning, but I still didn’t really understand Advent. After all, the word isn’t even in the Bible. We attended a Presbyterian church for a while, and they lit candles and said some prayers those four Sundays leading up to Christmas, but I didn’t know how to “own” Advent for myself. (One thing I did know: it probably didn’t require a Smurf Advent Calendar!)

Even now, our non-denominational mega-church doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar. We may acknowledge secular holidays (an oxymoron, if you think about it) such as Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, and the Fourth of July, but we take no notice of Advent, Lent, and other church days and seasons.

Maybe I’ve been missing something.

The idea of Advent is appealing. In the middle of all the shopping, decorating, parties, and hype, stopping to reflect on the coming nativity offers balance and meaning. A few weeks ago I realized I want to observe Advent, but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing it.

So I turned to Google—and got totally confused.

It seems that every stream of believers has their own “official” way to do Advent. The candles I remember from our previous church are pretty standard, but they can stand for hope, joy, love, and peace … or is it hope, preparation, joy, and love? Or maybe prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels? Expectation, John the Baptist, Mary, the Magi? Prophesy, Annunciation, Proclamation, Fulfillment? At least most agree that the final candle, lit on Christmas Day, is the Christ Candle.

So, lighting candles is fine, and you can call them what you want to. Now what? Whether our traditions (old or new) involve decorating our homes, preparing special foods (I knew there was a good reason to make those butter cookies!), or fasting (oops, there go the cookies), how we observe the season seems to be up to us. The important point is to focus our attention on the coming birth of God. When we make cookies, do they remind us of God’s lavish goodness? When we fast, are we hungry for his presence?

That left me doing all the things I usually do, but hopefully with more focus. Still, I yearned for something more. That’s when one of our pastors wrote a blog post about Advent that really helped me clearly see how to proceed.

Glen Packiam’s article about “How Advent Can Be Much More Than ‘The Christmas Season’” is both practical and inspiring. It’s the article I wish I knew enough to write. Please take a moment and read his three points: 1) Focus on the Longing, 2) Find a New Rhythm, and 3) Don’t Get Fussy About It.

Then, starting this Sunday, let’s do more than survive The Christmas Season—let’s celebrate Jesus!

Do you observe Advent? Can you recommend a resource or tradition? Why is it meaningful to you?

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