Dec 20, 2017

Why and How I Celebrate Advent

In the past three years, I have repeated a very cherished Christmas tradition: celebrating Advent. Though historically a liturgical tradition of the Catholic Church, Advent has crossed over in recent years were Protestant believers are also practicing this beautiful tradition. It has been a way for me to shift my focus away from busyness for a little while and rest on Jesus.

So what is it exactly?

Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means, "coming." It signifies and celebrates a season of preparation and anticipation for the coming of Jesus, both His (future) second coming to establish His kingdom as well as a celebration of the love, joy, and hope in His coming to earth as a baby to one day grow and become our Savior. Advent begins in the Western world on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends after Christmas Day, though some Advent reading plans will stretch our for a few days afterwards.

There are different traditions for celebrating Advent, and people usually pick and choose depending on their own family traditions, time, and preference. Some people use the Advent wreath, four (sometimes five) candles encircled by evergreen that each symbolizes something. Each candle represents a week of Advent, with the first being hope, second is preparation, third is joy, and fourth is love. There are verses that traditionally accompany the lighting of the candles, read on each of the Sundays leading up to Christmas. Some churches do this within their services and others encourage it to be done at home within families. And some churches don't mention this at all since it is historically more of a liturgical tradition and many Protestant churches have distanced themselves from anything resembling the Catholic Church.

When practiced out of a heart and mind that desires to remember, celebrate, and prepare for the coming of Christmas, regardless of what Christian denomination you belong to, Advent can be a sweet respite away from the busyness by carving out time to look to Jesus.

Why is Advent important to me?

I am notorious for getting swamped by the busyness of this joyful but slightly chaotic holiday season. There are parties to attend, gifts to buy, cookies to bake, Christmas movies to watch, Christmasy books to read, houses bedecked in lights to drive by, a Christmas tree to either cut down or buy from a local store, and warm drinks to mix together over the stove when visitors stop by. Add in all the Pinterest-worthy home decor and crafts, and I've got enough to do for four months rather than four weeks before the Big Day. This is a common gripe about Christmas; it has become over-commercialized. I'd agree and add that it has become over-the-top with doing and lost a lot of the being. 

What do I mean by that? Rather than being captivated by the miraculous events surrounding the birth of Jesus, I do too much. It may be good stuff. It may even be "Christian" stuff, but oftentimes all the doing distracts my mind and heart from resting in the presence of this magnificent importance that Jesus came down from Heaven to be born of a woman in the most humble of circumstances and that He would live a sinless life so that He could one day be the atoning (reconciling) sacrifice that would once and for all time release us from the bondage of sin and death. What an amazing truth!

The busyness of life can give us what Asheritah Ciuciu calls "soul amnesia, forgetting who God is and what He has done for us." Unless we continually choose to tear our focus from all the doing and instead, rest our eyes (and our heart and mind) on Jesus, it is all too easy to get wrapped up in the busyness and forget to celebrate the significance of greatest gift of all, and what it means for our salvation.

I am not saying that you must celebrate Advent in order to shift that focus. There are other ways Christians have found to celebrate in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, whether reading a book about the nativity story, reading the Biblical nativity narrative out loud as a family, listening to sermons and worshiping Jesus through carols that focus on Him. For me, intentionally celebrating Advent has included these but has been become even more treasured.

She Reads Truth is an online Bible study community that I have been blessed by in the passed four years with great Bible studies. They have had phenomenal Advent studies the past four Christmases that have helped me block off time each day to sit and rest in the true meaning of Christmas. This year, the Advent study is called Joy to the World, and follows the words of the much loved carol:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. 
Let earth receive her King

This study focuses on the Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus, followed by reading the Biblical  nativity story. It has been a resource for me that has deepened my understanding of specific Messianic prophesies and how Jesus fulfilled them. Since I am a visual learner and metaphors help me understand, I have also loved reading about symbols of Jesus such as Him being the Light of the World, the Root of Jesse, and the sacrificial lamb/guilt offering for us.

My brain also likes comparing and contrasting different things in order to understand and learn, so it has been helpful to read about the differences between the light that Jesus brings compared to the darkness in our lives before Jesus. The Old Testament guilt offerings, a temporary, repeated solution for our sin problem was also contrasted in different Scripture passages with the permanent, once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin problem. Though these passages may seem more appropriate for Easter than Christmas, they are all linked to the life and purpose of Jesus. Remembering why He came to earth helps me celebrate the fact that he did come to earth at all, when He could have easily stayed in the majesty and perfect union of the Trinity in Heaven. But He came down, as a humble baby who would one day become the Suffering Servant for us all. You can't have Easter without Christmas but you certainly cannot forget Easter is the reason for Christmas.

This year, I have also been privileged to use another Advent resource, Asheritah Ciuciu's devotional, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, which focuses on specific names referred to Jesus in the Bible and why they are significant in the story of Jesus' birth but also his eventual saving work at the Cross. It has been very helpful to read the daily devotional in the morning and then meditate and pray about that specific name throughout the day. Names that the book focuses on include King of Kings, Man of Sorrows,  Good Shepherd, Lamb of God, and Light of the World.

I usually do my She Reads Truth study at night before going to bed and I typically can correlate between the two studies, with the name of Jesus that I studied that day helping me understand more fully a Biblical passage. Neither takes an excessive amount of time, so it has worked out experiencing both Advent studies this year. I bought white candles from Dollar Tree for my Advent wreath and try to remember to light those whenever I read my devotionals, but that doesn't always happen.

If any of this sounds interesting and you want to incorporate some Advent readings into this last week before Christmas, you are not too late. Feel free to jump along and read at your own pace. The She Reads Truth study is free online and you don't have to feel pressured to read everything. Start with this week's nativity narrative and if interested, read a few of the previous devotionals if you have time in the next weeks. Or just open up your Bible to the nativity narrative: Luke 1, then Matthew 1:18-25. Skip forward to Luke 2:1-20, then back to Matthew 2.  Or pause your busyness when a carol like Joy to the World comes on the radio or your pandora station and focus on the truth in the lyrics, asking yourself, "Do I live my life as if these words are truth?" Are you artistic? Set aside time to paint or draw a picture as you listen to the nativity story read out loud on a Bible app or while listening to a sermon or carol. Or do you prefer writing? Pen a poem or a short story about what Jesus' coming means to you. There are a myriad of ways to prepare your heart for the coming of Christmas, so don't let this be another to-do on your list, but rather, an opportunity to pratice selah (pausing and praising) during this joyful time of year when we remember the paradoxically magnificent and lowly way our Savior entered this world.

"O Come Let Us Adore Him" for He truly is the ultimate "Joy to the World."

Whatever you do these last days before Christmas, remember to make space in all of the doing of Christmas to be in awe of Jesus and what He has done. Whatever and however that looks for you, practicing Advent is really as simple as that.


I'd love to hear if and how you celebrate Advent in the comments below

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Elle Alice