Standing on tiptoe, I peered through the peephole as the late December snowstorm piled tiny flakes on my extended family’s cars lining the driveway. This Christmas Eve, my older yet still adolescent sister and I were chaotically assigning the gold-glittered bows to the red or green wrapped packages as my uncle’s northern “Oh, hey there!” rang through the front door.
It was almost Christmas, and I’d been waiting for this gathering. Excited. I can’t wait to see my cousins! Angry. But my uncle always seems mad at my mom; I don’t want to hear their fighting. Confused. Aren’t we all supposed to be one big happy family? Tired. I don’t want people to be mean anymore. So I waited; waited for the glee of memories, hope of a semblance of family, fear of the inner-turmoil holidays always meant.
Waiting is complicated.
Even now as years have passed since those hope-and-dread commingled Christmas days at grandmas, life’s waiting hasn’t stopped. In fact, it feels like we’re waiting a lot in the hope-and-dread days of 2020: waiting for the pandemic to lessen, waiting for the election’s aftereffects, waiting for our jobs or our kids’ school to resemble normalcy.
Waiting isn’t new.
Actually, it is lined with the holy. We need it, personally and in our small groups, now maybe more than before. Enter: Advent.
What is Advent?
Arguably, advent is beauty. It is a period of holy waiting that both looks backwards at Christ’s first coming (Christmas) and ahead to His next coming. Typically spanning from the first Sunday after Thanksgiving until Christmas, Advent is a time of remembering who Christ is, what He’s done, and what this means for the present and future. (And there’s so much more if you’re curious.)
Advent is beauty because it’s a built-in pause for us to remember the incredible beauty of our Creator and remember all that He, our Healer, is amid the brokenness around us. As Justin Martyr put it:
“For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the Unbegotten and Ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that, becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing.”1
Why does this matter for my small group now?
We need beauty in the broken. We need beautiful reminders of who Christ our Savior is during a time of chaos around us and turmoil within us. We need the character of God which is stronger than our whispering doubts and clutched-tightly fears. As we lead our groups, advent reminds us of this very reality.
How can I lead during Advent well?
Let’s be intentional to imbue our group with this reflectant, expectant, and holy outlook.
What to do:
- Help them prepare.
Before your group’s meetings over this period (or during your holiday break), challenge your group members to meditate on and memorize life-giving Scripture (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119:11). This focuses us on the already-given and yet-still-coming beautiful redemption story ushered in through a holy Savior. But make it practical. Meditation can sound ethereal; memorization can seem mundane. Possibly through a liturgical calendar with assigned Scripture reading or from the Christmas story, select a verse or section to meditate on as you memorize. Set a day of the week for everyone to check in on memorization progress, ask for memorization tips, and share one key takeaway they’re meditating on this week.
- Engage them with each other.
During your group time, have a bowl with your group members’ names and a stack of cards. Then, during the first ten minutes of the group time, have each member pull one name from the bowl and write a card of encouragement. The goal? To have them write how “waiting” with this particular sister in Christ has been encouraging. This simple act focuses us on the real-time comfort, heartfelt encouragement, and burden-bearing joy we get to share, together, as we all wait for His glorious return.
- Challenge them to share.
Ask your group members to look for Christ. This focuses us on the all-surpassing wonder of His unshakable character even as we wait and remember. Practically, in their personal time with the Lord after group, challenge them to find one aspect of Christ to focus on but don’t stop there. Encourage them to talk to one person (possibly a younger woman) in person, through a quick text, or small gift about this aspect of Christ. Maybe a woman is focusing on Christ’s humility, so the member might drop off a meal to encourage someone who has modeled this trait.
What to say:
- Give the facts.
Remember that not everyone in your group will know what Advent is. Be prepared to recap the rich history and the current meaningful Advent practices of the church and your local congregation. Consider having resources for people if they’re interested in learning more as you set up this season.
- Embrace the (holy) tension.
Acknowledge that Advent—a time of waiting—can be painful. We’re suspended between the “already” of what Christ has accomplished and the “not yet” of Him bringing everything under redemption. Make sure you address how this season, from difficult family gatherings to the complicatedness of our world, is challenging and that Advent doesn’t mean we are only full of hope. We have room to mourn our world’s brokenness; our Savior was well acquainted with pain (Isaiah 53:3). Encourage them to hold the pain while knowing the Savior holds it all; we rest in the bigger picture of His holy plan.
- Actively call out the beauty.
Even as we admit the brokenness around us, speak of the beauty together. We have an ultimate beauty of gracious, faith-filled salvation through Christ. We can choose to intentionally talk about how this makes even brokenness beautiful, even painful-waiting brimmed with hope. Ask them to create a list of where they’re seeing holy beauty during this season as they look through our redemption-tinted lens and remember it as a group.
Waiting is complicated.
But you do not have to wait to share the unshakable good news of our Savior. Through what you do and say, equip your group to relish in the complicated majesty of our gentle and lowly Savior who both came and is coming again. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflects,
“Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.”2
Deborah Spooner is a Minnesota-born analytical creative serving as a Marketing Strategist for Lifeway’s Groups Ministry. As a pastor’s daughter with an educational background in Biblical & Theological Studies and Digital Communications & Media, you can find her at her local church, in deep conversation, or with a book or pen in hand as she seeks to know Christ more and make Him known.
1. Justin Martyr, “The Second Apology of Justin,” The Writings of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, vol. II, ed. Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D. and James Donaldson, LL.D. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1868), 83.
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger, ed. Jana Riess, trans. O. C. Dean, Jr. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 40–41.