Advent means “coming” and consists of the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Many Christians want to celebrate this wonderful season but don’t know where to begin and are weary of some traditions for good reason.
The coming of Jesus Christ is all about hope, nicely summed up by Paul in Romans 15:12: “And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
What the Bible marks as a season of hope–remembering Jesus’ first coming (which Israel anticipated with hope) or looking forward to his second coming–parts of the church mark as a season of repentance. This is not to say that hope isn’t consistent with repentance, but it’s odd when the Old Covenant calendar had one set day of affliction (Yom Kippur, Lev. 16), for the church in the New Covenant to multiply fast days.
Repentance is always good, and Martin Luther’s first Thesis nailed at Wittenburg was “All of the Christian life is one of repentance.” But this sort of repentance doesn’t go away after four weeks or four years. It punctuates the Christian’s life whenever sin becomes known. In Malachi, the last book in the OT looking forward to Jesus, Israel is told to repent in specific ways: polluted food on the altar, unfaithfulness to the wife of youth; robbing God from tithes and offerings (1:7; 2:14; 3:8). A good prophet can tell you exactly what you need to repent of. A bad prophet or tradition sprays general skunk in your direction, vague and condemning. What you want is an honest rebuke like a kiss on the lips, clear knowledge of your sin, so you can honestly repent and have the joy of your salvation returned.
In our time of New Covenant fulfillment, fasts are for particular repentance and mission (Acts 9:9; 13:2-3). What we’re doing in Advent is preparing to celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God, and building hopeful anticipation of his coming again.
How should we do this? Any way that’s consistent with abounding in hope by the Holy Spirit. For those who like fire, the Lutherans came up with the Advent wreath. It has four candles, one for each week, sometimes a bonus fifth to light on Christmas Eve or Day.
For a daily routine, Advent Activity Calendars are a ton of fun. They consist of activities and surprises. My wife made the one pictured, and the first day of December consisted of getting out the snow globes, and the second day getting the Christmas tree. My guess is the vast majority of the activities are things we would do whether we had the calendar or not, but our little (and bigger) kids are ever-thrilled at turning around the next event. It makes the special things–putting up lights, decorating, drinking hot chocolate, building a fire–even more special. You can, and arguably should, get a chocolate Advent calendar. The cheap ones taste like wax which doesn’t slow the kids down at all.
There are a number of excellent resources with mediations, daily readings, Scripture, sermons, hymns, and essay collections. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed.
Readings & Devotions for Advent – A free PDF by pastors of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
Good News of Great Joy – A free PDF and EPUB by John Piper.
The Advent Jesse Tree – By Dean Lambert, this book has readings with questions for kids, and readings for adults as well.
Christmas Spirit – By George Grant & Gregory Wilbur, this book has essays, hymns, daily Scripture readings, traditions, carols, ballads and more.
God Rest Ye Merry – By Douglas Wilson is a great collection of essays and daily readings.
Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel – Edited by John Witvliet and David Vroege, this collection of thirteen sermons moves chronologically from the fifth to the sixteenth century, including Jerome , Leo the Great, Bede, Wyclif, Luther and Calvin.
Even though Advent has begun, don’t worry if you haven’t! The point is to slow down and savor, not rush to slow down. Happy Advent!