For half the globe, Advent corresponds with the dreariest days of the year. But until you experience the darkness of sin, you can't rejoice in the light of salvation.
The Advent season—the four weeks preceding Christmas Day—isn't focused on celebrating Christ's birth, but on waiting for redemption. Just as the Hebrew people waited for the Messiah and Mary waited for her mysterious first son, God's people today wait hopefully for Jesus' return.
Advent invites you to ready your heart for him. Why not wait to put up the tree and the lights, and observe the lost tradition of this season? As you prepare to celebrate Christ's coming, consider moving your usual traditions to December 25 and the 11 days following, then choose a couple of these nine creative practices to help you grow spiritually during Advent.
1. Journey to Jesus
When setting up your nativity scene, place Mary and Joseph as far away as possible from "Bethlehem," perhaps in a closet or the garage. Daily move Mary and Joseph toward the crÈche until they arrive there Christmas Eve. Remember to keep baby Jesus hidden until Christmas morning!
2. Darken Your Dinners
Transform your meals by turning off electric lights. Begin with reading John 1:9, then eat by candlelight as you reflect on the darkness of life without Christ and discuss the meaning of waiting for Jesus, the light of the world. You may also choose to eat simple meals as you await the Christmas feast.
3. Try a New Tree
Put off putting up your Christmas tree, and set up a "Jesse" tree in the meantime. Derived from a prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 11:1, the tree is traditionally a bare branch or houseplant decorated with ornaments representing Old Testament stories. Use apples for Adam and Eve, a harp for King David, or make your own ornaments, such as a big fish for Jonah or a coat of many colors for Joseph.
4. Present Different Presents
In lieu of baking and delivering Christmas cookies, give away candles accompanied by notes printed with the texts of Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:9. If friends are curious about your unique gift, tell them about the light Jesus brings into your life.
5. Keep Quiet
Ponder the story of the priest Zechariah (Luke 1:5-79). How did he feel waiting in silence while contemplating the amazing news of the Messiah's coming? Take a vow of silence for a few hours one morning. Focus on God's presence and communicate with him through quiet prayers and a listening heart.