Growing up several of my friends were Catholic and “Diet Catholic” (Episcopalian). I became friends with most of these girls in middle school, and it was through them that I was first introduced to the church calendar. Words like Lent and Advent were previously foreign to this good little Southern Baptist girl.
It wasn’t until I was in college and grad school that Southern Baptist churches (or at least the ones I was attending) started to observe parts of the church calendar too. In doing so, I realized I had been missing out for most of my life. There is a richness of understanding that comes only through doing. This was highlighted in the traditions of advent and created a deeper connection to God and the meaning of each season.
So, what the heck is Advent?
Advent originally comes from 2 latin words ad–to and venire–come: to come. It later morphed into adventus, which means arrival. It has long described the Christmas season where rituals and traditions are practiced to highlight the much anticipated arrival of Jesus.
What are the traditions for?
The most common tradition of advent is some sort of devotional calendar. This often looks like opening up an envelope each day starting December 1st with Scripture/a lesson and an activity. The overarching story for the calendar is to lead the participants through how the Old Testament anticipates the coming of Jesus, his birth in the New Testament, and why he came. Sometimes they will have portions that also point to Jesus’ awaited second coming.
The point of this tradition is to connect the story of the baby in a manger to the greater story of the Bible. The meta-narrative of Scripture begins with God creating humans in His image, and humans braking relationship with God. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of how God chose a people through which He showed the world his love, mercy, grace, and justice. This culminates in God lovingly sending Jesus as a humble baby to show mercy the world through grace and satisfy justice by restoring relationship through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Creativity is a great way to get something from your head to your heart. Other traditions, such as daily/weekly ornaments, crafts, and good deeds can go along with a calendar. I love the idea of creating something with your family each day or week to emphasize a portion of the advent story. Creativity engages your body and heart around the central idea of advent: God’s compassionate love.
What should I look for in an Advent devotional?
Advent is about remembering how God intricately wove events in time together to pave the way for the coming of Jesus. It’s about traditions that recreate the anticipation of Jesus and reminds us to anticipate his second coming. A daily advent devotional is a great way to keep the focus of the season on Jesus and not possessions.
Look for devotionals that:
- Include Scripture from the Old and New Testaments
- God did not pick a random point in time to send Jesus. He is highly anticipated through the whole Old Testament. To exclude those passages would be to miss the anticipation part of awaiting Jesus’ arrival.
- Find ways to incorporate creativity along with reading
- Even if you are an adult without little kids try connecting with your “inner child” and see the richness of understanding that can only come when you engage something besides just your brain.
- Don’t think you have to come up with this yourself. We live in the age of Google and Pinterest–don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Find a list of activities and good deeds that focus on each part of the advent story
- Like incorporating creativity, this takes learning one step further into doing
- Love is the theme of the advent story (John 3:16) and nothing helps us understand love than compassionately loving others.
Advent starts on December 1st, but it’s never too late to jump in and enjoy the spirit of advent.