How we prepare for Advent (join me?)

I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving powers. Our temptation is to be distracted by them. When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence ... I will always remain tempted to despair.
— Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal (1983)


As much as I love the bright days of Autumn, I'm always eager for the calendar to turn the page to November 1.  November brings a kind of hushed beauty which is the perfect prelude to the season of Advent.  Oh my goodness, I love Advent so much.  I love all that I have learned in the past eight or so years that my family has been marking time with the historic church calendar.  That's not to say, we never participated in any of the activities we now officially call "Advent", but not in its fullest liturgical sense. (You can read about our first years keeping Advent here, here and here.)

If you've ever considered following the ancient rhythms of the  liturgical calendar there's no better time to start than at the Church's New Year:  Advent.  Even if your church follows the civic calendar more prominently than the liturgical, you can follow along with your brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe from the quiet spaces of your own home.  You could create -- figuratively or, even, literally -- a family altar.  This does not have to be elaborate, time-consuming or expensive.  Simple tangible acts will impress themselves upon your hearts and minds for a lifetime:  a book or two filled with rich images and time-tested writings, mealtime prayers, a candle or two. 

May I encourage you, though, to not stress about this time? That would be the very opposite response from what we're hoping to practice. The point is to enter where you are with what you have. Here's a list of the ways that, over time, our family settled into the rhythm of the Advent season.

1.  We try to spend some time being quiet: Uneasy Advent:  A somewhat cranky post from 2010 in which I share what I learned about practicing quiet my second year celebrating Advent

2.  We try to stay home more often.

While we are home, we try to listen to music, occasionally look at the stars together, dream about the feasting we'll enjoy at Christmas, anticipate the fun we'll have giving and receiving gifts.  We also pray for and cheer each other on as each of us works to finish all the projects, deadlines and assignments that come with the end of the semester and calendar year.  This can be stressful so we encourage quiet naps, hot cocoa and old movies to enjoy together. Once in a great while, our domesticity gets so crafty that we make homemade gifts to give when Christmas comes.  Sometimes we just enjoy the ideas of making homemade gifts someday. 

The point is we try to avoid crazy traffic, crazy stores and crazy commercials during Advent (really all year, but especially at Advent!). No one has inspired this practice more than the jolly British theologian, G.K. Chesterton:

The Christmas season is domestic; and for that reason most people now prepare for it by struggling in tramcars, standing in queues, rushing away in trains, crowding despairingly into teashops, and wondering when or whether they will ever get home. I do not know whether some of them disappear forever in the toy department or simply lie down and die in the tea-rooms; but by the look of them, it is quite likely. Just before the great festival of the home the whole population seems to have become homeless.
— G.K. Chesterton's excerpt for today in Advent And Christmas Wisdom

3.  We look for ways to serve others -- locally and globally

There's no better practice to give to Jesus at Christmastime than to serve the hungry, lonely, poor and sick. This looks a little bit different every year but our hope is that during the four weeks of Advent we will have collectively served others with our time, energy and money.  Sometimes we do this in secret, other times we join with others in a larger serving event.  

4.  We light candles, look at art, sing hymns, pray and read Scripture together and we try to do that everyday (but we're more like 4 out of 7 days):  

As far as I can tell, the family practice of lighting candles and reading Scripture together is most often celebrated every Sunday in Advent. My best tip for you if your family feels awkward doing this? Turn the lights off!  Advent is about waiting for light anyway so it fits.  There's nothing like sitting in the dark looking a few flickering candles to break the ice of awkward family Bible time!

Before you read further, let me assure you if this sounds all holy and somber that is not exactly true to life.  If you know our family in real life, you've already figured that out.  Take for example, the plastic zebra and the 'I heart Bingo' sign that showed up around the Advent wreath one year. (It's a long story, but I'm blaming Chesterton's influence again.)


A few of our favorite devotional books for Advent:

  • God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas:  This is my favorite, favorite, favorite advent devotional.  It covers the weeks leading up to Christmas, goes through the 12 days of Christmas and moves into Epiphany.  The full-color artwork is gorgeous and the writings include authors like Eugene Peterson, Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus and Kathleen Norris.  We put this book on an easel next to our nativity along with some Bibles for people to pick up and read when they have quiet moments. 
  • Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas: This collection of 40 essays for Advent and Christmastide includes some of the most thoughtful Christian writers and theologians in the last century.  Whether you read a handful of entries or the entire book each year, you will grow deeper in your understanding of the beauty and jarring truth of the Incarnation.
  • Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Advent and Christmas) is a simply-gathered collection of ideas for living out the liturgical year with your family.  This book is especially geared toward families with young children.
  • Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross is a great devotional for the entire year.

Advent readers/activities for little ones (some of my favorite little people in the world gave me a thumbs up on the following resources!):

Advent wreaths & calendars:

  • The Cradle to the Cross Wreath:  I've mentioned before how much we've enjoyed using this wreath for our Advent, Lent and Pentecost celebrations.  You can go to Ann Voskamp's site to see how her family uses the wreath for Advent.  We have enjoyed it so much, but also do recommend using dripless candles!

Click here to visit a site with all sorts of Advent information and resources.

5.  We sing this song.  A lot.

Advent’s the poetry. Advent’s the strange deeds that led up to the Great Deed. Advent is the power of the mystery that from the beginning stretches through the immortality of Elijah straight out into time, into Transfiguration, into Easter. Advent is all these things
Ultimately, Advent is the grand narrative. It’s the one that makes us Christian. It’s the one that ties it all together. This is what we wait for. This is what comes. Amen.
— Phyllis Tickle


If there was ever a year in our civic life more suited for quiet contemplation, this is the year, friends.  

Will you join me in the daily work of "training our eyes for the small signs of God's presence" this Advent? Starting on Sunday, December 3 I'll be posting a daily collection of Scripture, song, art, prayer and practices to help us all slow down and pay attention to God's presence in the waiting. 

In the meantime, I'll be sharing a few more posts with our favorite music, movies and books for the weeks leading up to Christmas (There is a way, friends, to enjoy the season while saving the full-blown celebration for the 12 Days of Christmas!)   

Do you celebrate the 24 days of Advent?  Why or why not?  

What are some traditions you keep to help you slow down and pay attention to the presence of God in the waiting days before Christmas?  Comment below - I'm listening!

*Please note that, in an effort to be a good steward of time and resources for our family, this post includes affiliate links.  When you purchase any item you click through from these links, you'll pay the same amount, but we'll get a few pennies in our coffers.Thank you!*