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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
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 depths 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.
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. (Photo: 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.
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
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 Devotional Guide.
Tomorrow I’ll add one more way to observe Advent. This I count as my greatest Advent discovery. Stay tuned . . . .