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Growing Closer to God in Advent: Some Practical Suggestions

By Mark D. Roberts | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Part 4 of series: Introduction to Advent
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

So far in this series I’ve explained what Advent is and why I have found it helpful to observe Advent. If you’re at all convinced, you may wonder what to do about it. In this post and the next in this series I’ll outline some practical suggestions for how you might experience Advent.

Pay Attention to the Advent Content of Corporate Worship

If your church celebrates Advent, be ready to pay close attention to the readings, prayers, songs, and seasonal pageantry (like the lighting of the Advent wreath). Your intentionality in worship can infuse your whole life with Advent expectation.

Many churches, even if they don’t plunge into the spirit of Advent, nevertheless wade into Advent themes in their pre-Christmas worship. They use readings from the Old Testament prophets or sing Advent carols like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The more you pay attention to these Advent elements, the more your personal experience will be enriched.

If your church doesn’t acknowledge Advent, you may decide to talk with your pastor or worship leader about it. But, please, be kind and encouraging! Throughout my years as a parish pastor, I found it much easier to receive “Here’s something I find exciting!” than “Here’s what you’re doing wrong!”

Enjoy Advent Music

This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, unfortunately. There are hundreds of popular Christmas songs and carols, played everywhere during Advent, from churches, to gas stations and shopping malls. There are comparatively few Advent songs, though many songs and carols do touch upon Advent themes of waiting, hoping, and yearning for God.

If you enjoy classical music, there are a few Advent albums available, including:

Advent at St. Paul’s. This is my current favorite of the bunch.

An Advent Procession Based on the Great “O” Antiphons

Advent Carols from St. John’s

Bach: Advent Cantatas

The first part of the so-called “Christmas portion” Handel’s Messiah is filled with Advent themes (from the beginning through “The People That Walked in Darkness”). This is probably the most readily available and familiar classical Advent music. My favorite recording of the Messiah is the Academy of Ancient Music version conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

I have found one more contemporary Advent CD. Actually, it combines Advent music with Lenten music. Prepare the Way of the Lord by David Phillips contains 18 instrumental tracks, half dedicated to Advent, the other half dedicated to Lent. This is a wonderful collection of music by an accomplished Christian pianist. You can purchase the CD from Amazon, or you can download an MP3 version from David Phillips’ website.

I listen to quite a bit of Christmas music in Advent, but try to stick with instrumental versions. Thus I save listening to sung Christmas carols for Christmas Eve and thereafter. This way I still have a sense of waiting even while listening to familiar carols.

Use an Advent Wreath in Your Home

You can get Advent wreath kits online or from most Christian bookstores. But you can easily make your own with a wreath (natural or artificial) and five candles. See this example of the Advent wreath in my home.

If you aren’t sure what to do with an Advent wreath, I’ve written a guide that you can access by clicking here. Feel free to adapt it as you see fit, or to use it in ministry settings.

Finally, if you want to experience a virtual lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath, you can visit my website each Sunday. Click here for last week’s online lighting.

Let Your Nativity Scene Function as an Advent Calendar

I have not done this before, but I have friends who do. They have nativity scenes with lots of characters. They time the setting up of their nativity scene so that they add one character each day, adding the Christ child on Christmas (or Christmas Eve). This can also be a wonderful family tradition that involves each member, especially younger children.

Dress for Advent

It’s common for people to wear Christmas colors throughout the month of December, so why not Advent colors? I used to do this when I led worship at Irvine Presbyterian Church, wearing a purple tie in the more traditional services and a purple sweater in the contemporary services. These days, I wear purple ties to work during the first part of Advent, before I transition to Christmas ties (which I won’t get to wear unless I use them in the days leading up to Christmas).

Focus in Your Personal Devotions on Advent Themes

There are many texts, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, that express Advent themes. By reading and meditating on these passages you’ll enhance your Advent experience of God. Some possibilities for Advent Bible readings can be found in my Advent wreath guide.

Tomorrow I’ll add one more way to observe Advent. This I count as my greatest Advent discovery. Stay tuned . . . .

Topics: Advent |

3 Responses to “Growing Closer to God in Advent: Some Practical Suggestions”

  1. Ray Says:
    December 1st, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Mark, I appreciate your passion for Advent.

    I remember once when my daughter was younger and had really long hair, we were sitting down at the table and it was her turn to light the Advent wreath. As she bent forward to light one of the candles her long, beautiful hair fell right into the flame of a candle she had just lit. The fire crackled all the way up her hair right to the top of her head. It reminded me of Acts 2. All that was missing was the sound of a mighty rushing wind and speaking in tongues. Come to think of it, she did shout out something unintelligible as her head burned. Maybe it was the Spirit.

    Not to worry, we extinguished her quickly.

    Joyous Advent, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that stuff to you and your readers.

  2. Andrea Says:
    December 1st, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    One practical way we’ve been trying to teach our children about what the celebration of Christmas is all about is through what we call the 25 Days of Giving. They do a giving activity every day of December leading up to Christmas. Simple, natural things that are easy for young children to grasp. We have time to talk about Christ, what being a servant means, and issues in this world like homelessness and orphans. We pray for the people we give to every day. These are mostly activities that are free, such as sending special artwork and a card to members of our church who can no longer attend church due to medical issues and age or calling an elderly relative, donating gently used clothes and toys, etc. I blogged about it last year and am excited that this year there are at least 20-30 people around the country joining us!

  3. debt Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 2:47 am

    I randomly came across your blog post. Beautiful, thought-provoking blog. Every year I always meant to make an Advent wreath but it kind of fell behind all the other holiday activities that suddenly start immediately after Thanksgiving. This year, I’m going to try to make my own wreath.


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