Waiting Together: Celebrating Advent at Home

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by Courtney Blacksten

Editor’s Note: When Courtney Blacksten and her husband Brandon were in their first year of marriage, they were excited to begin to create their own holiday traditions as a new family. They chose to focus on celebrating Advent well. Courtney says, “Each evening of Advent we light the appropriate candles on our Advent wreath and ring a glass bell, listening to the sound until it fades. The chime calls us to mindfulness as we prepare to read a scripture passage, a short devotion from Henri J. M. Nouwen, and close our time in prayer. This practice or spiritual discipline has helped me to focus more on the season of Advent than rushing past this special time of preparation and anticipation to a focus on Christmas. Observing Advent has pulled me into the biblical story and helped me to see this time of year in a new light. It has helped me to reflect on my spiritual life and renewed my understanding of who I am as a beloved daughter of God. It is my hope that through this article, other families may experience the same renewal in their own life and gain a new perspective on this wonderful time of year.

What is Advent?

Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the coming of Jesus. Not just the coming of the Christ child so long ago but also for Jesus’ coming in our daily lives and future coming as well. Advent calls Christians to slow down, wait, listen, and prepare their hearts for Jesus.

The Christmas season is possibly the busiest time of year and is marked by greedy expectations, frenzied shoppers, and credit card bills galore—a distant cry from what the liturgical season of Advent calls for. The way we practice Advent is important because of the way our post-Christian culture has come to treat Christmas as a way of selling things. With the busy-ness that surrounds Christmas, Advent helps us to get our hearts more in touch with God.

The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath symbolizes the period of waiting for Jesus’ coming.

The wreath is a circle, a shape without end. The wreath symbolizes God’s unending presence. It is traditionally made from evergreens, which symbolize everlasting life. Around the wreath are four candles, three purple and one pink. Purple, the liturgical color for the season of Advent represents penitence. The pink candle, which is lit the third week, represents Joy.  In the center of the wreath is a white candle, which is called the Christ candle.

There is no “correct” way to make an Advent wreath, however. Creating your own wreath is a great activity for the whole family to do together while you discuss how you will celebrate Advent together.

Use your Advent wreath as a focus for you daily Advent devotions.

First Week of Advent

The first candle lit on the Advent wreath represents hope. During Advent we anticipate and hope for Jesus second coming.

O God, this year we have known hardship, and we have known war. So many have suffered; some have died, while others have mourned. It has been a difficult time in our nation and around the world.
We thank you for your promise of a time when swords will be exchanged for shovels and when tanks will be replaced by tractors.
We look forward to the promised day when nations will live together in peace; and when we learn, not about war, but about you and one another.

(Light the first candle.)
Lord, may the light of this first candle shine bright and clear, reminding us of your promise of peace on earth. [1]

Read Isaiah 2:1-5

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

For Lo! The days are hastening on, by prophet seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song which soon the angels sing.

Second Week of Advent

(Light the first candle.)
We light the first candle, reminding us to be hopeful of God’s promise of peace on earth.

Read Psalm 72:1-7

O God, we remember that you sent Jesus, not to the rich and the powerful, but to the poor and those in need. We remember that Jesus healed the sick, comforted those who mourn, and went out of his way to love even little children.

(Light the second candle.)
Lord, may the light of this second candle, as it dispels the darkness around it, help to remind us that we are to dispel the darkness of sickness, poverty, injustice, and suffering all around us. [2]

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,
Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.

Third Week of Advent

(Light the first candle.)
We light the first candle, reminding us of God’s promise of peace on earth.

(Light the second candle.)
We light the second candle, reminding us that we are to dispel the darkness of sickness, poverty, injustice, and suffering all around us.

Read James 5: 7-10

O God, you command us to be patient in our waiting for Jesus’ coming. As the farmer prepares the field and waits for the harvest in patience, may we also prepare our lives and wait for your coming in patience.

(Light the third candle.)
Lord, may the constant light of this candle serve as an example of the kind of constant patience we are to have in our living and in our relationships with one another.
As we rush about with shopping, parties, cooking, decorating, and the busyness of these days, may we not forget the true reason why we do these things; and may we not grumble against one another.
Our hearts are strong, Lord, for your coming is near. [3]

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

Still through the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains, they bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.

Fourth Week of Advent

(Light the first candle.)
We light the first candle, reminding us of God’s promise of peace on earth.

(Light the second candle.)
We light the second candle, reminding us that we are to dispel the darkness of sickness, poverty, injustice, and suffering all around us.

(Light the third candle.)
We light the third candle, reminding us to be constant and patient in our relationships and in our living.

Read Matthew 1:18-25

O God, we can only admire the righteousness and trust of Joseph, who—in the face of public scorn and humiliation—took upon himself the responsibility of caring for Mary and her unborn child, and who was faithful to your call.

(Light the fourth candle.)
Lord, may the light of this candle illumine our path through life, so that our way is the way of righteousness, trust, and faithfulness. [4]

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.

Christmas Eve

(Light the first candle.)
We light the first candle, reminding us of God’s promise of peace on earth.

(Light the second candle.)
We light the second candle, reminding us that we are to dispel the darkness of sickness, poverty, injustice, and suffering all around us.

(Light the third candle.)
We light the third candle, reminding us to be constant and patient in our relationships and in our living.

(Light the fourth candle.)
We light the fourth candle, reminding us that the way of following Jesus is the way of righteousness, trust, and faithfulness.

Read Luke 2:1-20

O God, we have watched for your coming with longing and with expectation, with patience and with hope.
Now, as the prophets promised so long ago, you have come to us once again; and with the shepherds, we are filled with wonder and amazement.

(Light the white Christ candle.)
Lord, you come as a tiny, fragile baby; yet we know that you are God and you are with us.
May the flame of this candle remind us that you are the light of the world and that if we follow you, we will never walk in darkness, but will have the true light of life. [5]

“O, Little Town of Bethlehem”

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

For more information

A wonderful way to prepare your heart is to read daily from a devotional book. A few suggestions include:

The Irish Jesuits. Sacred Space for Advent and the Christmas Season 2010-2011. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2010.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nowan: Daily Scripture and Prayers together with Nowan’s Own Words. Liguori, MO: Liguori, 2004.
Richardson, Beth A. The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2009.

Bibliography

[1] McIntyre, Dean. “Advent Wreath Candlelighting Meditations for Home and Church, Week 1.” Copyright © 2010 General Board of Discipleship.
[2] McIntyre. Week 2. Copyright © 2010 General Board of Discipleship.
[3] McIntyre, Week 3. Copyright © 2010 General Board of Discipleship.
[4] McIntyre, Week 4. Copyright © 2010 General Board of Discipleship.
[5] McIntyre, Christmas Eve. Copyright © 2010 General Board of Discipleship.

*****

Courtney Blacksten graduated from the Center for Youth Ministry Training and Memphis Theological Seminary in May 2012 with a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry. She now serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at the United Methodist Church of the Good Shepherd in Yukon, Okla.

COMMENTS


Melanie Sheaf3:19 pm

Wonderful understanding of Advent and what it is. Also, a devotional of sorts to go along with it if you wish. :D

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