From Advent Candles to Advent Readings, learn about the Meaning of Advent and Why Your Church Should Celebrate It
Worship Leaders, add depth to the Christmas season by sharing the Meaning of Advent plus 8 ways to celebrate it in your Christian church.
In today’s culture, Christmas is becoming less “Christian” every year.
Consumerism is taking Christ’s place for the holidays as we focus on decorating, gifting and baking. Instead of anticipating, reflecting and waiting.
I remember when retail stores used to wait until November to unveil their Christmas fun. These days, before summer even ends, Hobby Lobby is filled with garland. And the countdown to Christmas is in full swing by fall.
But the focus? Yeah … not so much about anticipating Christ’s arrival.
Contemplative Reflection and Joyful Expectation
Celebrating Advent can lead your worshipers to spiritual depth in the midst of a season of distraction that pull us farther from the very meaning of Christmas like a powerful magnet.
- Encourage deeper understanding with the fullness of Scripture
- Experience God working in the waiting
- Engage in both contemplative reflection and joyful expectation
WE HAVE A WAITING PROBLEM
Gosh, we hate to wait. And we do anything we can to speed up the process.
“HOW LONG IS THE WAIT???”
We ask that at the car place, the dentist office, and especially to customer service representatives.
“Speed it up, please!“
Call ahead seating, microwaves, and fast passes. Insta-Pots replacing Crock Pots. And Netflix replacing TV channels – because binge watching means we don’t have to wait for a next episode!
We hate to wait.
Can you imagine waiting for 10 years in prison? 14 years for a promised wife? Hundreds of years for deliverance from slavery? Or thousands of years for the promised Messiah?
The Bible is filled with waiting.
And God always used it. He spoke through it. And people grew to walk more closely with Him.
Advent is all about the Waiting.
WHAT’S THE BENEFIT OF WAITING?
- increases our dependency on God
- sharpens us to hear God more clearly
- grows our character to be more like Him
THE DUAL MEANING OF ADVENT
A Season of Waiting on God
The season of Advent is recognized as the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day.
Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival.” It has become the season of waiting and anticipation of the Coming of Christ.
However, the Coming of Christ not only refers to the Christ-Child born in a manger, but also the anticipation of the 2nd Coming of Christ. This dual meaning has been celebrated since the 6th century.
Liturgical and Non-Liturgical, Protestant and Evangelical
Advent is celebrated across many denominations throughout the world.
While some entire denominations (including Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Episcopalian, and Methodist) celebrate Advent as part of their church year, they are not the only ones!
My friends who love and celebrate Advent in their churches range throughout Baptist, Vineyard, Assembly of God, Brethren, Non-Denominational. Covenant, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Free, Church of Christ, Congregational Christian, and more.
8 WAYS TO CELEBRATE ADVENT
Whether you want to ramp up your Advent emphasis or just explore a few elements, here’s a short list of ideas to get you started.
I’m listing the simplest first, in case you are coming across this late in the game but still want to grab the opportunity. A few of the last ideas take some think-ahead time and preparation.
Even a short teaching, prayer, or moment of silent reflection can make a difference for many worshipers as they try to keep their Christ-focus in such a noisy season.
Whether you want to just dip your toe into the water of Advent, or dive deep, these ideas will take you there!
1) Talk about the Meaning of Advent from the Stage
Share about what Advent means, give the history, and set the context. Talk about how God works in the waiting. Share about Biblical waiting and the long period of silence before the Messiah came.
Don’t forget about the dual meaning of “coming” and include the 2nd Coming of Christ in addition to the Child in the Manger.
2) Offer Moments of Silent Reflection during Worship
Ask people to breathe deeply and sit in quiet for a few moments. Maybe once during the season. Or each week of Advent. Offer this time to simply wait on God and rest in His presence.
You may choose to project an Advent related scripture on your worship screen during this time. But I encourage total silence, with not even background music playing.
3) Read an Advent Scripture each Sunday
Focus on reading passages about waiting and the arrival of Christ, both the coming of the Messiah and the 2nd Coming. Prophecies and promises are peppered throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.
The books of Isaiah, Psalms, Micah, Matthew, John, and Revelation are great places to start.
Check out this reading, straight scripture but with a creative twist! Based on Isaiah 64, it includes a meaningful Psalmist response in the middle. Perfect for WEEK 1 of ADVENT. Click here: Week One Advent Reading Based on Isaiah 64.
4) Celebrate with Advent Candles
Advent Wreaths and Candles come in many varieties and it’s easy to set up your own. Five candles (while traditionally 3 purple, 1 pink, and 1 white) can really be any type or color and set in any display.
Many churches choose one family each week to come up front to light the next candle and share a special reading.
5) Choose Reflective Songs about Waiting
Some churches do not introduce any Christmas songs until the actual week of Christmas. They instead focus the first 3 weeks of Advent on waiting, reflection, and longing before introducing Joy to the World and The First Noel.
If that’s too big of a stretch for you, think about reserving the first week or two of Advent for songs about waiting. Examples include the traditional O Come O Come Emmanuel and the modern Waiting Here for You.
6) Utilize Traditional Weekly Themes of Advent
Many churches celebrate each week of Advent with the following themes.
- 1st Sunday: HOPE
- 2nd Sunday: LOVE
- 3rd Sunday: JOY
- 4th Sunday: PEACE
(I have occasionally seen those words in a different order, or the themes of Promise, Prophecy, Peace, and Adoration.)
If you choose to follow the themes, look for fitting Calls to Worship, Scriptures, Reading, and Songs.
7) Offer Mid-Week Advent Worship, Prayer, or Soup Supper
Consider a mid-week Advent service or prayer time, with or without supper. Often this is a special intergenerational event. Some churches even incorporate Advent crafts or missional projects.
8) Theme it up Each Year to Keep it Fresh
- One year we used the prophetic scripture from Isaiah 9:2 “Those walking in darkness have seen a great light” and decorated with midnight blues and twinkle lights. We compiled a devotional filled with pages of light-themed scripture. And we created a Wailing Wall for people’s sorrows.
- The next year we focused on the “Glorious Coming” and decorated with a multitude of Angels suspended from our Worship Center Ceiling. Golden trumpets adorned our wreaths. And we displayed the Names of God in Hebrew.
- And this year we have chosen “Waiting for the Promise” with dramatic monologues each week spoken by a Biblical character (in costume). Each character is waiting on God’s promises leading up to the Messiah. In addition, we are beginning each service with dimmed lights and hushed music instead of our usual fellowship with lots of talking and upbeat songs.
There are many creative ways to help turn people’s hearts from the busy to the quiet. Away from the consumerism of the day toward the Spirit of God.
WHAT IF YOUR CHURCH HAS NEVER CELEBRATED ADVENT?
My current church didn’t either. Until we introduced it.
Advent holds more meaning for me today than it did when I was a little Catholic girl in my school uniform.
The introduction of Advent in a church that has never experienced it can be even more life-changing than growing up with it.
Introducing Advent sets Christmas apart as a Christ-centered season
Sometimes we need to be shaken awake to our own need for God.
- Call your worshipers away from consumerism and into contemplation
- Offer quiet reflection in the midst of busyness and stress
- Bring newness to a church season that has become predictable and routine
We need reminders of the holiness of the God we serve. Our human story started long before our birth and is wrapped throughout Biblical history. Advent takes us there.
We cannot experience the full joy of the coming Messiah without experiencing the Waiting.
Just as we cannot experience the full wonder of the Resurrection without experiencing the Death on the Cross.
Please share other Advent Worship ideas in the comments below. I would love to hear what you do to make the season set apart.