Before Thanksgiving has a chance to wind down, preparations for Christmas kick into high gear. Boxes come out of storage, lights are strung, stockings and trees go up, and families start making plans for how they will spend the holidays. In retail stores, the preparations start even sooner. I would imagine you’ve already seen a Christmas aisle go up in your local grocery or home improvement store. With so much attention and excitement surrounding the Christmas season, often the most important thing we need to be preparing for this time of year gets overlooked—preparing our hearts and our homes to celebrate Advent.
Advent simply means “arrival,” but when we talk about it in relation to the Christian faith and calendar, it refers to a period of four weeks (specifically four Sundays) that lead up to Christmas Day. And while it is celebrated in many ways in various churches and homes, and some elements of it may feel unfamiliar to you, at its heart, Advent is about setting aside intentional time amid all the craziness of the Christmas season to reflect on the arrival of Jesus. More specifically, the two arrivals—the one that already occured at His birth and the one we are waiting on at His second coming.
You may have heard Advent referred to as a time of reflection and anticipation. We spend time reflecting on the incarnation, that time when Jesus, the Son of God and one with God Himself, left heaven and came to earth in the flesh. This focused reflection reminds us that we are eagerly anticipating Jesus’ promised return, the time when He will again come to earth and finalize the work He started, the work of righting our broken world. In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul wrote, “When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). That work of redemption is why Jesus came, and finishing it is why He will come back.
It makes sense that we would use this time of year to remind ourselves of the hope we have in Christ. He is, after all, “the reason for the season” as people like to say. However, things move at lightning speed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Unless you have a plan for how your family will celebrate Advent, you may get to Christmas Day and realize you missed it. So, let us help. Here are a few ideas to help you and your family get ready for the Advent season.
PREPARE YOUR HEARTS
1. Be in the Word.
As with everything in the Christian faith, the celebration of Advent is rooted in the Word of God—what it teaches us about God’s promises for His people, why Jesus came to earth the first time, and what it means to anticipate His return. Consider these words from Paul: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, ESV).
If regular Bible reading is not a part of your daily rhythm or family life, then it will be hard to remember to flip that switch on when the Advent season arrives. Preparing to celebrate Advent begins now by making sure the reading and studying of God’s Word are a priority for you and your family.
2. Explain Advent to Your Kids Ahead of Time.
In the days leading up to Advent (which begins on Sunday, November 28, this year), talk as a family about what Advent is and why we celebrate it. Use what you’ve already read in this blog along with the research you do on your own or things you’ve learned throughout your faith journey. This will look different depending on who is in your home. If you have younger kids, you can get them excited about the arrival of a special baby, Jesus, and you may want to focus your readings and conversation on the story of His birth in the Gospels. Advent comes alive for them in the story of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, animals, and angels. You can help your kids see how everything from the gifts we give one another at Christmas to the star on the top of the tree points to Jesus.
If your kids are older, they are more capable of understanding the themes of Advent—hope, joy, peace, and love—and how each of those is fulfilled in Christ. Explain to your older kids why it is important for you to make room for Advent and involve them in the details of what this time will look like for your family. Follow the example of the psalmist, who reminded God’s people that they are to “tell a future generation the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, his might, and the wondrous works he has performed. He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children so that a future generation—children yet to be born—might know. They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep his commands” (Ps. 78:4-7).
3. Pray Over the Season.
Advent can be such a sweet, joyous time for your family, a time when you are digging into God’s Word together, finding His peace amid chaos, and growing in your love for Jesus. Before the season’s arrival, take some concentrated time to pray (both on your own and with your family), asking God to draw you closer to Him and closer together through this time of celebration.
PREPARE YOUR HOME
In addition to ensuring everyone understands what Advent is and why it matters, you will want to come up with a plan for what your celebration will look like. Traditional Advent celebrations include weekly Scripture readings, prayers, and the lighting of Advent candles. You can develop your own plan, or use a resource like Lifeway Women’s Our Hope Has Come—our 2021 Advent collaboration—to guide you along.
1. Pick Your Weekly Bible Passages.
Each of the four weeks of Advent has a theme associated with it—hope, joy, peace, and love. These are all themes that connect us to the heart and mission of Jesus. The order may vary, but these are the general ideas. Traditionally, Advent Bible passages are ones that encourage preparing our hearts for the arrival of Jesus and accompany each of those four themes. You’ll want to focus on Old Testament promises of the hope of the Messiah and passages from the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Here are some ideas to get you started:
2. Plan Your Activities and Gather Your Supplies
Depending on who is in your home, you may want to consider adding activities to your Advent devotions. These could range from making crafts and homemade gifts with young kids to lighting candles with your spouse and/or older kids. For kids, especially little ones, adding activities helps the truths they are learning about Jesus stick well beyond the ten minutes you spend talking together.
One popular tradition in many Christian homes and churches is the Advent wreath. Advent wreaths vary, especially around the world, but most common is a wreath made of evergreen garland (which symbolizes the eternal life available through Jesus) that holds four or five candles: three purple, one pink, and sometimes one white. The purple candles symbolize hope, love, and peace; the pink candle symbolizes joy; and the white candle symbolizes Christ. Each candle is lit on one of the Sundays of Advent with the Christ candle being lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. You can purchase an Advent wreath like this one or this one at lifeway.com or make your own.
Whether Advent is a new concept for you or a longstanding tradition in your family, we encourage you to take this journey together. And most importantly, remember to keep the conversation going well beyond Christmas Day. The reflection and anticipation we feel for Jesus during this time of year should permeate our lives all year round. As Henri Nouwen wrote, “In his sermon this morning, Oscar Uzin said … The Lord is coming, always coming … When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.”1
Come, Lord Jesus.
Laura Magness has worked for Lifeway since 2008 in a variety of editorial roles. Originally from Lexington, KY, she now calls Nashville home, where she lives with her husband and two boys.
1. Henri Nouwen, Gracias!: A Latin American Journal (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 57.