It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I’m not even talking about Christmas yet.
Advent is a season of invitation for the feast that is coming. Practicing Advent for the past decade has formed me spiritually, emotionally, and relationally in ways that are hard to quantify. It’s a little bit of growth year after year that adds up to a quieter soul and a sturdier hope. Each year, the prophets, psalm singers, and gospel writers invite me to see with a clearer lens a bit more of the mystery of God’s miraculous arrival. The same mystery shapes our entire lives, the waiting for Christ’s next and final arrival. The arrival that we expect is the one that will never end with another good-bye. Oh, mysterious hope!
Every year, I sort of hope their words will be cozier. Why must there be so much talk about God’s justice wiping out man’s evil? Why so many flaming arrows and toppling earth?
The reality of arrival is not a cozy scene, but a cosmic, unstoppable disruption of the kingdom of men by the reigning God and His Son, the Christ. Advent is the invitation to walk the pathway of this eternal kingdom. The reign of Christ that’s already here, but not yet fully arrived shines the light for us as we walk. We live in this stretched out parentheses and Advent kindly welcomes our weary souls to contemplate the visible reality of our lives and world in contrast to the invisible reality of the Christ who came, is with us now, and will most assuredly come again.
In the spirit of Advent’s invitation, I welcome you to walk through the days - one by one - quietly, slowly, contemplatively. If this all sounds impractically holy, I assure you the best sorts of contemplation is what happens when we carry a quiet heart through all the noisy celebration or the sorrowful absences of December.
How to enjoy Advent Daybook posts: Look, Listen, Read, Pray, & Do
Each day of Advent (December 2 - 24) I’ll share a devotional post that includes a work of art, a song, daily Scripture passages, a short prayer, and a simple activity to help you practice the waiting days of Advent.
Some might call this devotional practice of visual contemplation Visio Divina, or a divine looking. It’s not the actual work of art that is divine, but the Holy Spirit’s invitation to encounter Christ through nonverbal reflection. Throughout the year I collect digital images that I think will enhance the Scriptural themes of Advent. You’ll notice that some of the images evoke traditional Christmas scenes while others seem to have nothing to do with the holiday season at all. The images rotate through classic and contemporary art of all media. Each week I include an image (usually a photograph) from news headlines of the year. My hope is that the Scripture passages for each day orients the visual art selection and sometimes, honestly, that’s a difficult task. The prophets don’t make cozy, holiday scenes a priority in their descriptive language!
December is prime time for music lovers! One of my earliest concerns about practicing a slow entry into the Christmas feast was that I’d miss all of the beautiful carols and Christmas songs I’d been singing at the top of my lungs since childhood. And, it’s true - I do miss singing along with most of the world (although, I’ve come to appreciate the store soundtracks as a perk of shopping in December!)
What I didn’t know until I’d lived out for a few years is that I’d grow the same attachment for the old hymns and carols of Advent. While I could never get tired of the quintessential Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, there are so many more to enjoy. Almost as much as the Scripture we soak in each year, it’s the theologically rich, melodically beautiful lyrics of Advent that have formed me. Thankfully, as the Church has become increasingly reacquainted with the historic liturgical calendar, there’s been a lovely renaissance of new and retuned music allowing us to raise our voices every season.
Most of the songs I share each day are contemporary versions of old classics, but each week I try to mix in a choral or traditional arrangement. I try to select quality recordings and include both a Spotify and YouTube version for your convenience. Since the music is chosen to enhance the visual art, my family chooses to play the music as a backdrop for contemplating the image. You might choose to do each separately. I also include a link to lyrics for each song so you can sing along if you’d like!
Oh my goodness, I love the lectionary. I’ve always been intrigued by the interweaving of Old and New Testaments for the beauty of the various literary rhythms as well as the deep satisfaction of experiencing the living, breathing word of God that looks backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s so rich. If you don’t do anything else with the posts I send each day, read the Scripture passages. I include a link for the complete lectionary passages each day and then excerpt the portions that particularly spoke to me as I was preparing the post. I use the English Standard Version most often, but if you click through the link to the Biblegateway page, you can adjust the version to your preference.
From December 2-16, Sunday Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C). Daily Scripture readings are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (Year 1) with only one or two of the daily Psalms. The daily passages this year highlight the Advent rockstars Isaiah and Luke. It’s going to be good! Read each passage (or the excerpt provided) slowly and listen for the invitation of God to the world, his people, and you.
Starting December 17, I’ll be focusing the reading portion of each post on one of the “O Antiphons” (an ancient liturgy that is the root of the beloved “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” hymn). This is new for me, but I’ve been inspired by Malcolm Guite’s sonnets and a prayer service our church holds during this week. I look forward to sharing the beauty here with you, too.
Each week the prayers are formed around the Sunday collect (prayer said by the congregation in Sunday worship). While you could pray directly from the daily Scripture (especially the Psalms) or the hymn lyrics, I include a guided prayer for each day. Once a week, I invite you to a form of intercessory prayer termed “Prayers of the People” in the Book of Common Prayer. This allows us to set aside at least one day to remember each sphere of our world with specific prayer. Poetry at its essence is a type of prayer, and every Saturday I share a poem as the prayer portion.
The spiritual practice of contemplation, at its best, moves from stillness to thoughtful action. We were made by a Creator to love Him, our neighbors, and ourselves with heart, mind, soul, and strength. I’m delighted to invite you to some simple, daily actions to demonstrate that love outwardly. Some of the activities will feel familiar to the traditional customs of Christmas time, and some will feel new and counterintuitive. It’s all good.
An Advent Community
When I first started this series, I was compelled to create something I’d been looking for and couldn’t find online. While I own and enjoy several printed beautiful devotional books for Advent and Christmas, I was intrigued by the idea of a multi-media, shared experience that can be cultivated online. Since that time, many new and wonderful resources release each year. It’s tempting to dabble in each one, but I encourage you to find what works best for you and to simply, prayerfully walk through each day with intentional companions. I’m honored to be included in your Advent journey.
I’ve also known from the beginning that I wanted this to be a free offering - sort of like my Christmas card to you. The ability to access a world of beauty for free on the internet literally changed my life. I want to be part of that free stream, and since I’m mostly curating the work of other people I encourage you to click through the source links to purchase their art. If you’re appreciating the posts and would like to support my work on the website, I’ve include a PayPal “tip jar” on the blog page and in the bottom of some of the Advent posts - (paypal.me/TamaraHillMurphy) .
This year, I’ll be sharing occasionally via live stream at the blog’s Instagram account. The video expires 24 hours after it airs, but I’ll save them and link within the blog posts. If you’re on Instagram, you can follow me there - a_sacramental_life.
Conversation makes a community so please comment regularly! Let me know how you’re experiencing God’s invitation through the Advent Daybook posts or any other part of your day. I love to hear from you.
A few other resources I’m enjoying this Advent
The wonderful blog, The Homely Hours, shares simple, meaningful practices for Advent that are especially mindful of families of little ones. (Start with the Advent daily practices post. I’m eager to enjoy the curated list of 24 traditional Advent hymns and carols that just landed in my inbox!
Paul Neely of Global Worship has been a continual source of the current worship and art from around the world. (start with his Advent post with prayers and art for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers)
Victoria Emily Jones at Art & Theology curates exquisite collections of art, poetry, song and prayer with historic and contextual descriptions. (Scroll through her Advent posts here, and don’t miss her Advent Art Video for Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom series.
Advent Half-day Retreat Guide (for individual or group use) from Leadership Transformations. (I’ll be using this at our Parish Quiet Day on Saturday.)
Sarah Quezada’s 5-part email series called Advent Caravan: Walking with the Holy Family. (Sarah is quickly becoming my go-to source for down-to-earth, factually-researched, biblically-informed, and graciously-shared information about immigration and refugee issues.)
Joshua Banner’s “40 Ways to Spend 5 Minutes with God” which I’ll be drawing from for the Advent Daybook posts this year. (You can receive the booklet by supporting The Invitation’s Kickstarter at the $15 in the next two weeks. Follow Josh’s Invitation podcast for prayerful guidance and encouragement.)
You can find the books we scatter throughout our house each Advent at the following links: Our 10 favorite Advent devotional books (for all ages) & Our favorite Advent & Christmas books (for all ages)
Here’s a collection of simple ways to prepare your home for Advent: A few simple ways to decorate for Advent
Here’s a post with some of our “go-to” Advent music (although there’s so much good Advent music being released I’d like to update this list!): Our favorite Advent music (for all ages) and here’s the fresh playlist I’ve curated for this year: Advent Carols & Hymns 2018.
I’m looking forward to spending the next coming weeks together. If you’d like to receive the daily posts in your email inbox, subscribe with your email below. (You don’t need to do this if you already receive posts via email.)
Blessed Advent to you and yours. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!
(You can see Advent Daybook posts from 2017 here.)