Preparing for Advent means different things to different Christians. But for too many, it is not something that means anything. Some Christians believe Advent is the time to prepare for Christ’s birth. Are they supposed to prepare… to prepare the celebration?
Advent actually means the second coming. It is the season to celebrate not just Jesus’ birthday, but rather the coming of the Savior. It is not a time to prepare for Christmas. It is a four-week long celebration that culminates on Christmas Day.
Preparing for Advent involves you, the person, and how you can honor the Lord throughout the season. Much like you might plan a shopping trip in the weeks ahead of Christmas or a night of Christmas caroling, Christians need to prepare themselves for the festivities of the whole Advent. If you know you will decorate your house at the beginning of the month, you plan ahead by buying a few more pieces, blocking out a Saturday for the ordeal, and maybe bringing the decorations from the attic.
Celebrating the Advent season takes many different forms. Cultural, denominational, or family tradition may help form your plans for the four weeks. Growing up, my family had Advent calendars with candy in them. Each night, it was a family moment to read a short Christmas-related story and then open that day’s window. Every Sunday at supper time, we lit a candle on an Advent wreath. My parents prepared for these things not by just buying the items, but by reading the same book soon after Thanksgiving each year to refresh their own Advent spirit and knowledge.
My Advent preparation involves a reading ritual, too. The goal of Advent for me is to remind everyone not just what we are celebrating, but what it means to them. Rick Warren wrote a great, short book called “The Purpose of Christmas”, describing how Jesus’ birth affected not just the whole world, but each one of us. It offers dozens of bullet-point assertions that can spark a positive conversation about Christ and salvation, either with fellow Christians or as an evangelical tool. Every year, I read that book and try to use as many of those bullet points as I can.
How many times do we hear people say that life is nicer in Christmas season? People seem more tolerant and happier to share. That’s not true for everybody, but I am among those who thrive during the Christmas season. Recently I realized it’s because what we call the Christmas season is actually Christmas. The celebration has begun with the first day of Advent. No wonder so many of us feel good.
One of my neighbors decorates his house to a ridiculous level of brilliance. Every season he adds something to remember that year. A simple tree like the one his recently deceased father had was how he started. Santa visiting a child in a hospital commemorates his daughter’s recovery from an accident. Setting it up each year is his way of preparing for Advent by thanking God for what He had already done.
Some folks have traditions like feeding homeless people. Others visit hospitals, orphanages, or jails with food and gifts. Others make the rounds of family and old friends. Christmas pageants and shows and special services might be an Advent tradition. All of those are part of the Advent celebration, but it does not tell the most important thing about preparing for Advent.
The coming of Jesus was a wonderful, world-saving event of long ago. We celebrate it during Advent. But the coming of Jesus is not limited to a night in Bethlehem. It can happen and does happen every minute of every day. Christ continues to arrive in the hearts of millions each year. We are particularly celebrating the presence of Jesus in our own hearts and just like happens when we have guests staying in our home, we should make a little extra effort to clean it up.
Preparing for Advent means preparing yourself to honor the Lord in your own heart. It is time for self-examination, confession, and forgiveness. It is a time to remember our personal Advent and rekindle the feeling of when Christ came to us. No wonder we seem happier in Christmas season.
If you are having trouble remembering the Good in your life or are looking for a community to share it with, why don’t you visit us at the Hands of God Church? We would love to meet you and share in your Advent celebration.