As a child I looked forward to celebrating Christmas — yes, primarily for the toys, but also to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. In order to keep me and my sister’s attention on Jesus and not the commercialism of the season, we would make a pound cake and decorate it for Jesus. We even sang “Happy Birthday” as the candles were lit and we gave our first gift to Jesus on Christmas day — our hearts, our souls and our minds belonged to Jesus above all other things.
Well, sort of.
This practice was a bit of a stretch, even for a conservative Baptist family like mine. Baptist folks can be somewhat suspicious of anything with origins in ancient traditions.
But that is exactly where I found myself at 33. I was searching for more rootedness in my Christian faith and turned to ancient spiritual practices to be drawn inward and contemplative.
I started looking for ways to point my own children to a deeper purpose of the Christmas season and sort of stumbled upon Advent. The word comes to us from the Latin word for “coming” or “arrival”.
Initially I thought it seemed strange to try placing oneself in the position of “waiting” when we know too well that Christ was born, Christ has died, and Christ is risen. The only thing left to do is … “wait” for his return.
Our calendars are full and dominated by a rhythm of shopping, partying, and go-go-go.
We don’t need any help from retailers grasping at our quiet space, because we are tempted within ourselves to fulfill the lust of our own material desires. Advent endeavors to draw us away from the noise and to institute a rhythm of redemption free from consumerism and inconvenient interruptions.
As early as the fourth century A.D., Christians fasted during this season and ended their fasts with celebrations on the arrival of the wise men. In like manner, Christians today exist as the sons and daughters of God in a world ruled by secularism and godlessness. The church needs the arrival of Jesus in our lives as much today as the world needed the first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem.
For many Christians who celebrate advent, the most familiar sign is the lighting of the candles: two purple candles, followed by a pink and then another purple candle - on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At the center of the four candles is a white candle to be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. The five candles represent a theme or movement that enable us to patiently wait for the coming of Christ both in our immediate present and our imminent future. [Watch Pastor Micah and Catherine Papai McMillin create + explain the Advent wreath]
Week One - Hope
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13)
Week Two - Faith
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Week Three - Joy
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Week Four - Peace
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Christmas Eve - Love
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
These five movements produce in Christians a waiting, a longing, a yearning for more of God in a desolate world. We hope in the midst of hopelessness. We put our faith in the one who eternally present with us. We rejoice even in times of great sorrow. We find peace somehow in the midst of chaos. And we love and receive love in an age selfishness. We encounter all of these in the name and person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In addition to learning to wait as a spiritual practice in the advent season, we also grow in our understanding of biblical truths regarding the nature of God and his care for creation. It is in the advent that we are introduced to the gospel — the good news that a savior has come to the world to rescue it (namely its people) from itself.
There are several doctrines to embrace in the advent season and three doctrines are particularly significant:
The Incarnation of Christ — Fully God and Fully Human
The Trinity within the Godhead — Father, Son and Spirit
The Return of Christ — His second coming to establish an eternal reign
Most Christians agree that Jesus will return although there is great diversity of thought as to when he will return and the circumstances surrounding that event. Advent puts us in the posture of longing for Jesus to come again from heaven to earth.
We are living in a day much like the ancient time into which Christ was born. There was political upheaval, humanity sought its own pleasure, and religion was crippled by its own system of injustices. Jesus taught his disciples that he would come, but no one would know the day nor the hour of his return (Mark 13:35). His return will be unexpected and surprising; catching even the most devout off guard.
To be honest, you will not find the word advent in the bible. But can you think of a reason not to intentionally set aside time in this Christmas season to focus your heart, mind and body on Jesus? I don’t think so, either.
The early church caught the wisdom of setting aside time in our calendar to remember the birth of Jesus and to look forward to his return. The world has its own agenda which does not necessarily include Christ, although deep down they are longing for him — a savior.
Sanctuary Columbus ought to be place where people can find refuge from the world and a place to find the savior that their hearts are longing for. But not only for the world, for ourselves as well.
In addition to checking out our Advent Page of the website, I’ve listed a few suggestions for you and your family to practice advent this season. They aren’t perfect and if this is your first time practicing advent then give yourself grace when you miss a day here or there. The importance is in your intention. I’ll see you each Sunday in December as we celebrate advent as a church family.
Grace & Peace,
Advent Ideas for You and Your Family
Advent Prayer Chain - Each day choose three things to pray for and write one on each link; A prayer for growing in Christ, A prayer for the church, and A prayer for a friend or neighbor. You will end up with a very nice chain to wrap your tree in prayer or to decorate your fireplace.
Nativity Scene - My family has several nativity scenes from all over the world; Jerusalem, Kenya, Ethiopia and the US. Take time to introduce one nativity a week and discuss the meaning of advent in that cultural context. You may need to do some research to discover when Christianity first arrived to those cultures.
Dress in Purple, Royal Blue or Pink - I know the fashion police may not approve, but even your dress can become a means for sharing the adventus with friends, co-workers and neighbors. Purple represents repentance and sacrifice, while pink represents joy and adoration.
Focus Devotions on Advent Readings - We invite you to engage with God utilizing our Sanctuary Advent devotional for your practice.