Behind all the gift shopping, jingling tunes, ugly sweaters, parties, cleaning, and cooking of December, Advent beckons . . . inviting you into a deeper spiritual focus. Ushering you into a quiet, restful place for your soul where you can meet with God.
"Advent" comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning an "arrival" or "coming." Beginning four Sundays before Christmas, throughout church history Advent has traditionally been a season focused on waiting and anticipation. During Advent . . .
- We step into the past to focus our hearts on what it was like for God's people to wait for the coming Messiah.
- We engage our hearts in the present as we contemplate how Jesus, the Messiah, meets our deepest longings and answers our soul's deepest needs.
- And we turn our hearts in hope toward the future to the Second Advent we await. We dwell in the longing and yearning in our souls for the Messiah's return to ultimately rule over all things.
Along with all the joy and inevitable chaos of the season, join TCW in observing Advent through creative, fun, contemplative, and rich experiences using this day-by-day Advent devotional calendar for 2013.
First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013
This first week of Advent, focus your heart on the theme of God's messianic promises. From the very beginning, God had a plan of redemption—a story of longing and need, of hope and new life.
The Old Testament is full of prophecies that a Messiah would come. The book of Isaiah contains many beautiful descriptions of the coming Messiah, highlighting what he would be like, what he would do, and the deep human needs and longings he would address. Study the following passages from Isaiah and record in your notes the key descriptions and promises: Isaiah 2:4; 7:14; 9:2, 6–7; 11:1–5, 10; 22:22; 28:16; 33:22; 42:1–7; 60:1–3. (Family option: Read the passages aloud together. Afterward, discuss: What words, phrases, or ideas stand out to you? Why?)
Monday, December 2
The libretto of Handel's Messiah is drawn directly from Old Testament passages describing the promised savior. With your family or friends, listen to selections from Handel's Messiah or watch a performance on YouTube (such as this flash mob, this choral performance, or this one).
Tuesday, December 3
Revisit the passages in Isaiah that you studied on Sunday. Read them with a prayerful, pondering, contemplative mindset. After each passage, pause to consider and pray about these questions: What deep human longings do these prophecies address? What hopes or needs will the Messiah answer or provide for?
Wednesday, December 4
The "O Antiphons" are Christian Advent prayers drawn from Isaiah, dating back very early in church history. Each stanza of the "O Antiphons" highlights specific traits of the promised Messiah, giving voice to our need for him and the hope he brings. Pray through the "O Antiphons" today, joining your voice with those of Christians through the centuries.
1. O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation
with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people
the way to salvation
2. O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses
in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law
on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand
to set us free.
3. O Flower of Jesse's stem,
you have been raised up
as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down
in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you
from coming to our aid.
4. O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel
controlling at your will
the gate of Heaven:
Come, break down
the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people
5. O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
sun of justice:
come, shine on those
who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
6. O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature
you fashioned from the dust
7. O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free,
Lord our God.
Thursday, December 5
Ann Voskamp described her new book, The Greatest Gift, this way in an interview with TCW: "It's about grace that is weightless—it's not about burdens." She continued,
Especially as women, we feel such a burden around Christmas that it's about performance and that we feel we can't make everybody's expectations for a beautiful Christmas. I want weary women to be able to step into God's arms throughout the Christmas season, and to know that grace is weightless. There is no burden. Jesus comes to be Christmas for us. You don't have to make it or produce it or buy it. You just need to step into his arms and his story.
The Greatest Gift draws upon Ann's family's tradition of making a "Jesse Tree" during Advent. A Jesse Tree uses ornaments to symbolize Old Testament teachings and stories, each pointing toward the coming Messiah, Jesus. Consider creating your own Jesse Tree using Ann's free download for families or journeying through The Greatest Gift for yourself. You can find other Jesse Tree ideas on sites like this or this.
Friday, December 6
Today, focus your heart on Scripture's Old Testament messianic promises by singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The words of this Advent hymn are drawn from the "O Antiphons" prayers and the text of Isaiah.
Saturday, December 7
With your family, create messiah-themed stained-glass windows as an Advent decoration. Use clear transparency sheets and colorful permanent markers to create word-art and draw pictures based on the promises in Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament. As you create, talk together about God's promises of hope and redemption. Use clear tape to affix them to your sunniest windows. Then let the promises of hope fill your rooms with color and light.
Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013
God promised a Messiah, but his people waited . . . and waited . . . and waited for centuries. Waiting, darkness, and longing are a crucial part of God's redemption story and will be our thematic focus during this second week of Advent.
Monday, December 9
"Get up early one morning to make yeast bread," Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence and I suggested in TCW's "The Adventure of Advent" article. "As you wait for the dough to rise, think of how those waiting for the Messiah to be born must have felt." Use a favorite family recipe or try out the amazing artisan bread recipe full of waiting (and no kneading!) here. (For more creative ideas related to waiting, darkness, and longing, click here to read TCW's "The Adventure of Advent.")
Tuesday, December 10
Read Psalm 42 and 63:1–8, then write candidly in your journal, exploring these questions: Do you long for God as much as these psalmists? How might you need to grow in your awareness of your need for God?
Wednesday, December 11
Who do you know who is going through a particularly painful time of darkness or difficult waiting, such as a friend suffering through cancer or weathering a difficult marriage? Write that person an anonymous note, encouraging them with the truth that God is present with them in their hurt and waiting. Mail the card—and pray for its recipient. (Option: Gather as a family to make and send encouragement cards to several people.)
Thursday, December 12
In her Advent devotional Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent (Upper Room Books), Enuma Okoro writes:
Zechariah and Elizabeth know something about longing and waiting. They must also know something about the difficulty of maintaining faith and hope. And yet, Scripture only speaks of their righteousness before God. We are left wondering what it looked like for Zechariah and Elizabeth to express their yearnings, their desires, and their grief before God. We know from the witness of the Psalms that acknowledging one's desires and one's sorrow's before God was part of how Israel communicated with God. So if Zechariah and Elizabeth were devout then surely their faithfulness included prayers that open their hearts to God in sincerity and vulnerability.
Zechariah was the first to learn that God's plan of redemption was swinging into action. After long years of waiting, his wife would bear a son—who would be the forerunner to the Messiah! Yet Zechariah ended up spending long months in silence. Read the account of his story in Luke 1:1–25, 39–80. What would it be like to carry such wondrous news . . . in silence? Spend some time in intentional silence—and in sincerity and vulnerability—today.
Quotation from Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent used with permission of Upper Room Books.
Friday, December 13
In his Confessions, Augustine wrote, "Our heart is restless until it rests in you." How have you experienced restlessness, dissatisfaction, and longing in your life? How have these experiences drawn you closer to God? How has God provided a satisfaction and contentment you can find nowhere else? Reflect on these questions by writing in your journal.
Saturday, December 14
Bundle up your family or friends for a cold, dark-sky stroll. Use flashlights to meander through your neighborhood, pausing to look at the stars. Talk together about the dark times of life and how these, too, are part of our Advent experience. After your walk, share some hot cocoa and talk about the meaning of Isaiah 9:2 and Psalm 139:11–12 together.
Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2013
The Advent season isn't just about God's people awaiting Jesus' birth; it's also about our waiting for the Second Advent: Christ's glorious return! Study several passages describing the hope we have in Jesus' heavenly kingdom and his coming eternal reign. Record key themes, crucial ideas, and important descriptions that stand out to you from these passages: Romans 8:18–25; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18; Revelation 7:16–17; 21:1–22:5, 12–13.
Monday, December 16
Grab some binoculars and look out your window—at birds, clouds, passing cars, distant houses. What's it like to focus on something distant—to focus on it and see it more clearly?
Consider how this experience can symbolize our future hope as Christians. Do you live with your heart looking forward, searching the horizon, focusing on Jesus' future return? Read Colossians 3:1–4 and pray about how you might more intentionally focus your heart's perspective on Christ's Second Advent. (Option: Try it with your kids and discuss these ideas together.)
Tuesday, December 17
Consider this quotation from quadriplegic author and activist Joni Eareckson Tada (Christianity Today):
I feel lonely when I think about heaven. . . . I'm lonely for the resolution of all things, for the restitution, for the denouement. I have a hard time with disabilities, especially in the children. They break your heart . . . Lord Jesus, come quickly.
What hurts, evils, and heartaches in this world cause you to long for Jesus' return? List them on a piece of paper, pray about them, and then pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus." Symbolize God's ultimate victory over all that pain by crumpling up the paper and throwing it away.
Wednesday, December 18
Revisit the messianic prophecies that you read in week 1 (Isaiah 2:4; 7:14; 9:2, 6–7; 11:1–5, 10; 22:22; 28:16; 33:22; 42:1–7; 60:1–3). This time, read them through the lens of the Second Advent. How will these promises be fully realized one day? Which of these promises resonate with your own deepest hopes?
Thursday, December 19
Reflect again on the "O Antiphons" prayers from your devotional on December 4. How do the longings in these prayers express the same yearnings we have for Christ's future return and ultimate reign? For the time of all things being put right, described in Revelation 21–22? In your journal, create some of your own "O __________" prayers, expressing the hope you have in Christ and your longing for his Second Advent.
Friday, December 20
Sing, declaring your hopeful expectation of the future day in which Jesus will rule, putting all things right. Express your hope with the hymns "Jesus Shall Reign," "We Are Watching," "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus," and "It is Well With My Soul" (particularly the last stanza). Or for more modern worship, sing David Crowder Band's "Here Is Our King." (Option: Sing these songs together as a family.)
Saturday, December 21
Read Revelation 21:1–22:5, 12–13 as a family, then work as a team to make a collage expressing the beauty, truth, hope, and goodness of the new heaven and new earth Jesus will one day usher in. Cut out pictures from magazines (or draw pictures) that provide us glimpses of God's beauty, of goodness, and of truth—such as smiles of joy, inspiring scenes from nature, images of cultures and people groups from around the globe, and so on. Use this experience to talk about our hopeful waiting for Jesus' Second Advent. (Option: Cut your collage into circle shapes, string them through with yarn, and add them as symbolic ornaments to decorate your Christmas tree.)
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2013
This last week of Advent, we'll focus on the coming day of celebration: Christmas! The day celebrating the first Advent—the Incarnation of Christ and our remembrance of his birth. Begin by reflecting on these thoughts from The Gospel of Christmas author, Patty Kirk:
The Nativity story is the gospel: that is, the first—and, to me, most faith-inspiring—announcement of the good news that our Creator hasn't written us off but, rather, loved us enough, in spite of our own inattention to him, to lower himself to become one of the least of us. Jesus was born in inhospitable circumstances to a poor family soon to be refugees of terror. Nevertheless, his birth brings great joy for all of us. It's God coming to us, pursuing us, wanting us enough to endure the worst miseries imaginable of being one of us. Wow.
Consider: How do you see and experience the gospel in the Nativity story? How is this coming celebration central to your faith?
Monday, December 23
On your own or with your family, create homemade candles or decorate a glass votive holder (find ideas and instructions on Pinterest), or buy a few candles at your nearest store. Light your candles at dinnertime as you read John 1:1–14.
Tuesday, December 24 – Christmas Eve
Celebrate Jesus as the fulfillment of all God's promises and the answer to all of our hopes by praying this Nativity prayer, traditionally attributed to Augustine:
Let the just rejoice,
for their Justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their Savior is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.
Wednesday, December 25 – Christmas Day
Somewhere, in the midst of the joy and chaos of Christmas day, carve out time to prayerfully read Luke's account of Jesus' birth and infancy in Luke 1:26–2:40. Together with your family, praise God for the miracle of his love!