In the Christian Church of the West, the summit of the liturgical calendar is Easter. For the Eastern Church it is Christmas. The West sees the central hope of humanity as the story of our Savior who died to save sinners (“For God so loved the world …”). The East holds Christmas as the high mark because hope is found in the fact that God joined, became embodied, became incarnate with the cosmos (“The Word became flesh … “).
East or West, celebrations of Lent (the season leading to Easter) and Advent (the season leading to Christmas) are holy and have been historically prioritized to aid Christians in a robust life of faith.
Sunday, November 30th marks the first day of Advent this year. More often than not, Advent arrives with the thought, Is Advent here already? Regrettably, that moment is often too late to plan a meaningful Advent experience.
1. Set the atmosphere: One of our boys lights a candle on our simple wooden Advent wreath. Then we discuss some aspect of each candle’s theme (hope, peace, joy, love.) For example during the week of “hope” each evening we ask something like, “Why is Jesus’ coming hopeful for marginalized people like shepherds?” or “Why is it hopeful that people of other religions, like the Magi, are a part of Jesus’ story?”
2.Read: We do a daily reading from the Advent Book. We open 1 new door (each page of the book is an artistic door) and read a portion of the Advent story. Sometimes we review a few of the previous doors first. As they grow, the boys are encouraged to do the reading. And when they were young we play additional games like “Knock on the Door” or “Find the animal hidden in the artwork on each page.”
All in all, it is about a 15-minute ceremony. It gives us ample opportunity to share why the incarnation is so important to us, how God valued marginalized people, and to build hope-filled anticipation of Christmas (the practice of delayed gratification). We also include others: neighbor kids, housemates (we live in a communal household) and houseguests.
This year, I think we are going to keep the Advent book out on the coffee table where the boys can read it anytime they want, but instead of using that book during the evening ceremony, we are going to try a one-to-three verse per night, slow conversation through John 1.
• Expand the boys Christology (understanding of who Jesus is and why he came.)
• Enhance their capacity to ask the Bible deeper questions.
• Encourage memorization of some essential verses of faith: John 1:1, 1:12 and 1:14.
I am ashamed to admit that I have struggled to find regular ways to include Bible reading and morization into our family practices. I am very thankful that the Mothers and Fathers of our faith imparted rhythms like Advent to help us grow and spiritually nurture our household.
So, now is the time to prepare for your Advent ceremony. Whether you celebrate alone or with others, whether the participants are young or old, I am convinced that these practices will deepen your spiritual experience and expand your prophetic imagination.
• Keep your readings short.
• Save time for either mediation or conversation around the themes.
• Integrate multiple senses: smell (candles), sight (images), sound (music), tactile (like a tired old fel tree) and even taste (nothing says divine-abundance like a Christmas cookie.)
• Share the experience with people you love. Even if you don’t live in a communal household, shared ceremony can be experienced with FaceTime, Google Hangout or Skype.)