I owned Advent prep last year. It was our first Advent season with a kiddo, and I determined it'd be perfect. Because perfection is what Advent's all about, right?
In the weeks leading up to December, I gathered every resource, printable, and idea for loving others. My master plan would've made a Christian sugar plum fairy cry with delight. There were scripture readings and service tasks to spread the love of Jesus to family, friend, and neighbor. And it all hung from a foraged branch with natural and neutral details. The aesthetically-driven minimalist high-fived the picky theologian within me.
But owning the prep implies I didn't own the execution, and that's true. Everything halted when a familiar old friend appeared. Growing nausea and an inability to brush my teeth without gagging meant only one thing—a babe was on the way. Fitting for Advent.
If we learned anything from my pregnancies, it's I'm a terrible pregnant woman. I'm hospital-worthy sick from weeks two to thirty-nine and two days (the day I had both my children). So all my Advent prep and pride swirled down the toilet along with my, ahem, "morning" sickness.
So was my Advent a waste? Because I didn't read the right books? Do the right activities? Instagram my homemade calendar hanging on a tree with garland and red berries enough? Did I miss treasuring Jesus because I physically could't do the hustle and bustle?
Of course not; God was kind to me through my Advent failures. I spent more time waiting. I spent more time thinking of Mary, pregnant (maybe nauseous too?) and traveling and aching for relief. I spent more time longing for relief from my own suffering and inability to meet standards—mine and God's. I spent more time thinking about Jesus than any Advent season before.
Because Advent actually is about perfection; it's just not about ours. There are so many wonderful resources and Advent guides to help you fill your home with gospel hope of the perfect Savior. (I helped craft this one.) But the heartbeat of Advent isn't books and calendars and crafts. Those are good gifts to point to the Good Gift but never to eclipse him. The gift of Jesus is the only thing we hope in, and this is a season to hope together as God’s beloved people.
As a Church, we corporately pause to long and to wonder, because we recognize we're a people in waiting. We remind ourselves we're both rescued and being rescued. We look back at the cross for the assurance of Jesus' future return. We celebrate this season with joyful expectation. Because next time, he won't come as a wobbly-headed baby. He’ll come for his bride.
So we wait with eager anticipation. That’s what this season is all about.
Below are three ideas to help you prepare him room in your hearts and lives over the next four weeks. Some may fit your family rhythms, some may not. But I think you should still consider observing this season in your home in a way that fits your people and your circumstances.
Consider quieting your mind to make room to wonder and meditate on God’s word. If you're anything like me, you clock a couple of hours a day listening to podcasts, sermons, or music; or even just scrolling on social media. It's almost muscle memory at this point: I hop in the car, I plug in the phone; I start to cook, I plug in the phone; I start to clean, I plug in the phone. It's all good stuff that makes me think about Jesus, but it leaves me little room to behold Jesus.
This Advent, I'm taking a break from listening to all my favorites and scrolling on social media (outside of the podcast I work for...fear not, boss ladies). I want to remove the extra noise with which I choose to fill my mind and space. Instead, I'll be quiet or listen to scripture. Did you know it takes about 75 hours to listen to the entire Bible? And did you know all of scripture points to Jesus? By replacing a podcast or two a day, you could listen to almost the entire Bible during Advent. God's word is living and active, judging the thoughts and attitude of our hearts, renewing our minds; and it never returns void. And Jesus was the word made flesh for our greatest benefit and delight. What a powerful way to treasure Christ this season by meditating on the words written about him. What a gift!
Have you heard of the O Antiphon prayers? They’re a collection of seven prayers, each one focused on a prophecy about and a title for Jesus. If you write them backwards as an acrostic poem, they spell out ERO CRAS, which, when translated from Latin, means, “Tomorrow, I will come.” If you add these into your Advent rhythm as corporate prayers (perhaps as nightly prayers the final week of Advent), they serve as signpost reminders of our future hope amidst the (joyful) busyness of the season. These prayers use the words of Isaiah’s prophecies to remind us God promised a Messiah, and he came. Rejoice!
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
O Clavis David
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Rex Gentium
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
You can scour the internet to find the most aesthetically pleasing candle set up imaginable. (I’ve done it. Not once or twice, but thrice!) But to celebrate Advent with a weekly candle lighting, you just need…candles.
Each candle reminds us Jesus is the light of the world. As we light them each Sunday of Advent, take note of the flame flickering in the darkness, exposing the hidden places, bringing warmth. You can use any candle, but there are some neat traditions behind certain colors and arrangements. You can also pair your lighting with a scripture reading (work through the Christmas story) or a hymn. Most people use a candle for each Sunday, and maybe one more for Christmas day. On the first week, you light one candle. On the second, you light two, and so on. It’s another moment to stop what you’re doing, gather together, and think of Christ.
The point of the Advent traditions is always Jesus, never the motions of tradition. So breathe easy. If all you do is turn your thoughts and heart towards Jesus, you’ve done the better thing.
O come, o come, Emmanuel!