Advent begins this Sunday, December 1st, and as always, we are very excited here at the home of the Venable Four (maybe even a little more than usual this year). I know that some of you might be looking toward this blog for a Bible Reading Plan and Family Devotional ideas, so I wanted to go ahead and post what we are doing for this year as far as both of those. For the devotionals, I might post more detailed information in the days ahead (maybe for a week out at a time) with ideas or links to resources for discussion and activities, etc.
I am also working on an Advent Journal for my oldest son, which includes his Bible Reading for each day along with cues for journaling/writing or prayer or imagining/pondering or activities (not sure if I will end up posting that on the blog or not). I am really having fun putting it together. Honestly, I kind of wish someone would do something like this for me every year! He’s old enough this year to really dig into the themes and read and write and pray around them, so we are really excited to go on this journey with him. Thus, Stephen and I are actually going to read BOTH the passages under “parents Bible reading” and the “children’s Bible reading” on the Bible Reading Plan below, so that we are tracking with him each day. For our younger son who is only two years old, we have a stack of books and a little Storybook Bible that we are going to read to him from each day so that he can make his own little journey into the heart of this season as well.
Here are the links:
Advent Bible Reading Plan 2013
Advent Family Devotionals 2013 – List Format
Below is a little more information about a few of the different traditions our family celebrates each year for Advent for those who might be interested or might be new to the celebration of Advent. We light the candles for the Advent Wreath (each Sunday of Advent) and do the ornaments for the Advent Tree (every night of Advent) as part of the Family Devotionals provided in the link above. I only included the verses we are highlighting each night this year and ornament ideas in the link above, but I am hoping to post something with more details for each day of the week ahead on Saturday nights during Advent… I make no promises, but that is my goal.
In case you don’t know much about Advent (don’t be embarrassed – it was new to me ten years ago too), the word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of this time of year is meant to be the celebration of the birth of Jesus in His First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Jesus, the Bridegroom, King, and Judge, in His Second Advent.
“Thus, we celebrate with gladness the great promise in the Advent, yet there is also sobriety as the theme of judgment is added to the theme of promise, which is reflected in most of the Scripture readings for Advent (where there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability, repentance and judgment). But this is also faithful to the role of the return of the King who is coming to rule and reign.
Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and loving commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers of preparation for the heart, prayers of expectation and hope, prayers of those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isa 9)!
The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable. But even then, the prayer of Advent is still:
‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel…’” [above in italics is a paraphrased version of an online source about Advent]
MATTHEW 25 & THE LIGHTING OF THE TREE
We put up our Christmas tree last weekend. And before we turned on the lights for the first time, we read through the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. First, we turned off all the lights and lit ten candles. Our oldest son read and told the story Jesus told of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13, and at the right time, we blew out five of the candles, which seemed to be our youngest son’s very favorite part of the night. We talked about how whenever we are going to have visitors come to our house and stay with us, we clean up everything in the house, we set out our nicest linens, we make the room and bed where they will be staying as nice as possible, we even offer other little amenities to bless them, and last but not least, we leave the porch light on for them (when they are arriving at night – which guests at our house usually do for some reason, so that makes sense to our boys). We talk about how with Advent, we are doing the same thing… we are preparing our hearts, cleaning out the things that aren’t obedient to Christ or loving Him, offering the best of everything we have to the One we love, and making ourselves ready for His coming. The lights of Advent and Christmas in our house are a way of saying, “we’re ready for You to come, Jesus!” And so from the first time we turned those lights on last weekend to the very last time we turn them on in January, we will pray beforehand and tell Jesus that we are making ourselves ready, that we love Him, and that we’re ready for Him to come!
It never gets old. Each year that we’ve done this, something deeper seems to be happening in each of our hearts. I’m finding that with every prayer, with every time those lights go on, my heart is growing more tender, tears are nearer to the brim, and there is a longing welling up within me that is indescribable… a longing that accompanied by a growing and uncompromising zeal for the reality of Jesus in my life and within our little family. Oh, how I want to have oil in my lamp when that midnight cry is heard. O Jesus, we are so ready for You to come… and where we are not ready, I pray, Holy Spirit and Teacher of our souls, make us ready. Amen and amen.
THE ADVENT WREATH
The Advent Wreath is a venerable tradition held by many different denominations of the Church which, depending on who you ask, probably dates back to somewhere around the Middle Ages. The Wreath itself is arranged with four or five candles of any size. The candles are all set on the base of an evergreen wreath which can be decorated in many different ways. There is extraordinary imagery and history associated with the Advent Wreath. It is one of my favorite traditions. I honestly didn’t even know what an Advent Wreath was before I married Stephen, but it was one of the first traditions we started for Advent… and because of that, it is something I really treasure each year. The wreath is a tradition of remembrance, expectation, and celebration of Jesus during the month prior to Christmas. There is just something powerful about lighting all four candles and finally lighting the fifth “Christ” candle in the center on Christmas morning!
WREATH: The wreath itself is typically made of pine branches or even holly. You can purchase a fake wreath just about anywhere during the holidays, and you can also find the real deal, all-natural pine wreaths (Lowe’s carries them, as do most home stores). And of course, there are all kinds of other advent wreaths out there that aren’t evergreen wreaths at all. Personally, we prefer the simple pine wreaths. You can find out more about the different ‘meanings’ and symbolism behind the wreath online but here are a few tidbits:
The evergreen is meant to symbolize the God who is “ever with us,” and the circular wreath represents the faithfulness of the One Who is from everlasting to everlasting. You can also include red berries for “the blood of Christ.” Noel Piper suggests using a manger scene within your Advent Wreath if you have young children, as a sort of visual aid to help remind them what the wreath is all about.
“The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns… The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world and was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.” (The History of the Advent Wreath – Fr. William Saunders)
The flame is a symbol of the One who is called “the light of the world.” We who follow Him “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The light, brighter by the week, points us toward Jesus who has called us to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). (Treasuring God in our Traditions – Noel Piper)
CANDLES: You can use four or five candles (we prefer five). Traditionally, three of the candles are purple (representing Christ the King and His royalty – also a symbol of His suffering and of the Prince of Peace). Following this tradition, on the third Sunday of Advent, the candle is pink or rose colored symbolizing early dawn (it’s the halfway mark of Advent so it marks the rejoicing of the soul in expectation of the Light of the world on the horizon). And then the center candle, representing Christ, is lit on Christmas morning. The final candle is white and is placed within the center of the wreath while the other four are placed around the circular part of the wreath.
We follow this pattern each year for our candles (but a simple search online will show that there is a variety for the naming and theme for each candle – you just have to decide what you like best):
CANDLE ONE (Sunday, Dec 1): Candle of Hope
CANDLE TWO (Sunday, Dec 8): Candle of Preparation
CANDLE THREE (Sunday, Dec 15): Candle of Joy
CANDLE FOUR (Sunday Dec 22): Candle of Love
CENTER CANDLE (Christmas Morning): Christ’s Candle
Many churches and individuals choose instead to have all white candles or four red candles with a bigger white one in the center. The color and size of the candles are really a matter of personal choice, and in my humble opinion, not all that important. It’s the reminder that each candle brings during Advent and on Christmas morning that is glorious and good for the heart. Each week the new candle for that week is lit after the previous candles are re-lit. As you light each new candle, a passage or passages can be read out loud and/or explained for children. After that, you can worship, sing, and pray together - just a simple time of devotion in whatever way works best for your family.
The four weeks of Advent are a period of waiting that also signify the four centuries of waiting between the last prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus. On Christmas morning, you will light all five candles, the center one being the last one in remembrance of Jesus’ coming in the flesh in Bethlehem, and also in looking forward to His return.
Light of the world, illuminate our hearts, remind us of Who You are and of the manner of love with which You have loved us, and fill every room of our hearts with Your presence and glory. Oh how we long for Your Appearing.
THE ADVENT TREE
The Advent Tree is something we added to our family traditions when our oldest son was about three and old enough to participate more fully. I originally got the idea from the old tradition of the ”Jesse Tree,” but we call ours an Advent Tree and focus more specifically on the Incarnation and birth narratives as well as waiting and watching for Jesus’ Return (which is a bit different from the way the Jesse Tree devotionals are laid out – either is great, the above is just our preference). Our ornaments and devotions are a little different each year. This year we laid out a more thematic approach to each week’s devotions, but we always aim to go heavy on the Incarnation and understanding of who God is in light of Jesus’ birth by highlighting the history of events leading up to the Incarnation and the actual events around His birth.
Every year, we set up a second little tree that we call the “Advent Tree.” Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, which is the first night of the Advent Wreath too, we have daily devotions as a family. At the end of that time together, the kids get to put a new ornament on the Advent Tree that somehow symbolizes what we have just read in the Word and discussed. Sometimes it’s a stretch, but you just have to be creative. You can make homemade ornaments as another great DIY Advent project, which can be a very good hands on way to reinforce the heart of Jesus during Christmas and Advent for kids, or use ornaments you already have that will work, and/or you can purchase ornaments. We do a little bit of all three. For any that are store-bought, we try to add just a few ornaments that are new or just better each year (rather than making a big purchase up front).
So there you go… everything you ever wanted to know about Advent, maybe. I hope this is helpful and please feel free to post comments if you have questions. I am hoping to post little Advent meditations and musings and other more practical and helpful tips as we journey through this glorious season of hope and preparation for the Coming of the Lord together.