On our way to church I asked my children, “What is Advent?” One child said “I don’t know,” and the other, “When we get ready for Christmas.”
Billboards, Netflix, and the Target Store aisle teach us Advent is about preparing for Christmas.
But, what is Advent?
It is much more than hanging wreaths and the neighborhood cookie exchange.
What is this season for?
I came to faith in a modern Christian expression that lacks tradition. So my first Christmas as a mom—I had no clue what spiritual traditions to share with my children.
I turned to my information resource—the internet. And I found hundreds of ideas on Advent calendars and Christmas season activities.
Bake sugar cookies. Read the Jesus Storybook Bible. Drive for lights. Make Jesse Tree ornaments. The list was long—and daunting.
Was this Advent?
Advent is not a checklist (so I am learning). It is a time of preparing our hearts. Tish Harrison Warren wrote a great piece for New York Times about the Anglican perspective on Advent. What I’m learning from the more traditional expressions of Christianity, is Advent is a season of preparing our hearts for the celebration that begins at Christmas.
1. Advent is a season of waiting.
For 400 years leading up to Jesus’ arrival, generations passed without a word from God through a prophet. The Israelites looked back at what God already revealed (as expressed in the writings of the Law and the Prophets)—and looked forward in expectation for the promised Messiah.
Just like the Israelites waited and longed for the redeemer to come, Advent is a season of looking forward to celebrating our redeemer’s first coming and waiting for our redeemer to return. We search the scriptures for what God has revealed through the Old and New Testament writers—so we too can wait in expectation for our coming king.
2. Advent is a season of reflection.
While we wait, we look back. Advent is a season to remember all that God revealed in scripture about himself and his coming. But it is also a time to look back on our lives—where we’ve traveled spiritually and otherwise. Maybe even embracing the pain and the darkness that marks our longing for Jesus’ return. Advent is a time to reflect so that we can embrace more fully our hope in Jesus Christ.
3. Advent is a season of preparation.
We also prepare our hearts for the joy to be received at the celebration of Christmastime by gifting ourselves the space to turn our focus inward and up. In the honest inventory of our lives and the hope we have in Christ, we are then able to look forward to the return of our redeemer who is coming again as unexpectedly as his first.
I think I’m still searching for Advent—a season of practice and meaning that provides space for waiting, reflection, and preparation. This year, I am choosing to press in instead of press on more than any other year.
So, I am picking up three ways to practice Advent.
Setting my alarm for at least 10 minutes and sitting before the Lord in silence. This is opening my soul to his grace and presence in a way hustling never does.
2. Bible reading.
Reading the scriptures every day in a slow and reflective pace.
Allowing the Spirit of God to lead me in reflection in the areas of my life that need attention. Whether it is sin patterns, root causes of anxiety, unearthing longings in my heart—anything the Spirit wants to unveil (but taking time for the unveiling).
I’m putting down lots of pre-Christmas activity.
Instead of my long checklist, my family and I chose one activity to do a week that we most enjoy this time of year and are using our regular breakfast devotion to focus on preparing our hearts for Jesus‘ coming. I hope this year feels more like Advent than a chaos of adventure—but at least we’re moving one more step in that direction.
What are some ways you can practice Advent this year that helps you wait, reflect, or prepare your heart?