“The people walking in darkness will see a great light.”
We have seen that light. His name is Jesus.
Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, right? Yes…but it’s more than that. Christmas goes deeper than Jesus’ birth. It’s when we celebrate “God with us” on earth, and in our hearts. Celebrating Advent can help keep that in focus, and be a great part of your Christmas tradition.
Remember what it is like to wait all December for Christmas Day? The promise of warm family gatherings, great traditions, sumptuous meals, and most of all…shiny presents? Remember the anticipation?
You may remember that shine wearing off and that anticipation fading as you have matured. You may have found the greatest joy of most Christmas presents came at the moment of unwrapping. You may have watched the tree and the lights come down, and felt the magic of the Christmas Season siphoning out as they were hauled off and packed away. So it is with a Christmas based on anything but celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ.
Celebrating Advent is a great way to keep Jesus what you celebrate at Christmas, focusing on his coming in a time full of distracting artificial lights.
The word advent is from the latin adventus meaning ‘arrival’ or ‘appearance’–in this case, the arrival of God with us on earth: Jesus. And while there are many Advent traditions, all share the goal of celebrating the anticipation of waiting for Christ to come.
It is a triple celebration of Jesus’ coming, since Advent applies to 1) Jesus’ coming as a baby 2,000+ years ago, 2) Jesus coming again as king of the world some day in the future, and 3) Jesus coming to be lord of your life. (Three for one–what a deal!)
Want to celebrate Advent at home? Follow the outline below! If your church congregation celebrates Advent, their outline will undoubtedly differ from ours. Remember: there is no prescribed way of celebrating the coming of Jesus. So grab a chocolate from your advent calendar and go for it!
Advent: A Celebration for Five Candles
First, you will need an Advent Wreath with five candles. The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches–juniper or cedar works well, real or plastic–and it represents the love of God, which has no end or beginning and is fully alive regardless of climate or season. In the middle of the wreath is the Christ Candle. It is white, representing purity and light. Then four more candles–three purple and one pink–are placed in the greenery of the wreath. Purple represents royalty, and the color of the night just before dawn. Pink, as the color of roses, represents joy.
Start the celebration four Sundays before Christmas–which may place your first Sunday in late November. (But don’t wait until next year to get started…doing two or three on one Sunday won’t hurt anything.) Each Sunday you will tell one piece of the Christmas story and add new light to the wreath.
After lighting each candle, pray. A suggested prayer is included with each Sunday, should you need something to get you started.
1st Sunday – Prophets’ Candle: Hope
This first (purple) candle represents Hope. It is called the Prophets’ Candle, because the hope it represents comes from God’s promises that he made through people he spoke through–prophets.
Read Part 1 of the Christmas story and light the first candle:
God’s people, Israel, were being ruled very strictly by the Romans. Israel had once been a powerful nation under King David, but since then, God had punished them for worshipping other, false gods. He had allowed their enemies to take them out of their country, and destroy their great temple and their capital city Jerusalem. Many had returned and they had even built a new temple. But they now had a selfish king and religious leaders who cared more about status than pleasing God. These were dark times. Yet God’s promises offered hope. From the Prophet Isaiah, 700 years earlier: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” (Isaiah 9:2 NLT. Light the first purple candle) This Prophets’ candle represents hope. We can have hope because of God’s promises.
Father in Heaven, thank you so much for the Hope that you give us. Even when our lives feel dark and it seems like we don’t have many choices, you promise us your great light. Help us to understand what it means to wait for you and trust your promises. We know you have great things for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
2nd Sunday – Bethlehem Candle: Faith
This second (purple) candle, represents Faith. It took some faith to believe that God’s hope for the world–the chosen one who would save the world–would be born in a little, ordinary village like Bethlehem and not the holy city of Jerusalem. Over 700 years before Jesus was born, God’s prophets knew the little town where he would be born–and a lot of other details of his life.
Read Part 2 of the Christmas story and light the first two candles:
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. (Luke 2:1-5 NLT) It happened just like the prophet Micah said it would… “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” (Micah 5:2 NLT. Light the first two purple candles.) This Bethlehem candle represents faith. We can have faith because God keeps his promises.
Father in Heaven, you always keep your promises. Thank you for loving us so much that you gave us your son Jesus. And what an amazing way to do it, having him born in an ordinary town, in lowly circumstances. Give us faith to trust you with our lives, since you are the one who uses ordinary and lowly things to do what is amazing and wonderful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
3rd Sunday – Shepherds’ Candle: Joy
This third (pink) candle represents Joy, and reminds us who first got the amazing news of Jesus’ birth–shepherds! A note about Shepherds: they were usually poor, and definitely not considered ‘important’ people. They basically camped out every night, probably smelled bad, and subsequently were not getting invited to many parties. By choosing to tell these people first, God reminded us that everyone is important to him.
Read Part 3 of the Christmas story and light the first three candles:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15 NLT. Light the first two purple candles, then the third pink one.) This Shepherds’ candle represents Joy. We can have joy knowing that the gift of God is for everyone, rich or poor.
Father in Heaven, it’s so great to know that we are important to you. Sometimes we feel like the shepherds–like people don’t think much of us. Your Word says if we could count your thoughts for us, they would outnumber the grains of sand on the beach. (Psalm 139:18) Lord, help us understand how much you love us. And let us share the joy of your love with everyone this Christmas. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
4th Sunday – Angels’ Candle: Peace
This fourth (purple) candle represents Peace, and the angels’ tidings of peace when announcing the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Read Part 4 of the Christmas story and light the four purple and pink candles:
When Jesus was born, the angel came to shepherds in the fields nearby to give them the great news of Jesus’ birth. This is the one who the prophet Isaiah wrote about: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NLT) And “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” (Luke 2:14 NLT. Light the first two purple candles, the pink one, then the final purple one.) This Angels’ Candle represents Peace. Jesus is our Prince of Peace.
Father in Heaven, thank you for giving us hope in your promises. Lord, you are worthy of our faith because you keep those promises. Please let us experience the full joy and peace of accepting the gift of your son Jesus this Christmas. Help us to understand how much you love us and to put our trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
This is the day you light the Christ Candle in the center of the wreath. Typically, this candle is lit as part of a congregation’s Christmas Eve service.
For your home Advent celebration, our suggestion is to drop the formalities and do the following:
- Light the Christ candle
- Sing a song (or songs) of praise to God
- Pray, thanking God that ‘the waiting is over’–Jesus has come to earth, and Jesus has come to your heart (or can, if you desire it).
- Remember Jesus in all your Christmas celebration