The stores and online catalogs seem to think that October is the time to prepare for Christmas. Shelves are crowded with wreaths and glitzy tree ornaments. This used to annoy me quite a bit. I’d think, “October? Really? My husband just got the fall wreath on the garage door, and Thanksgiving is weeks away. Can’t you just wait a bit for Christmas?”
After a while, though, I finally realized that the stores are right! October really is the time to begin to prepare for Christmas.
Now's the time
Here’s why. Truly embracing the message of Christmas requires some planning and forethought. Advent, the four weeks before Christmas day, is the perfect reflective, formational, spiritual lead into Christmas! Observing the Advent Season helps your congregation focus less on the tinsel and glitter in the stores and more on the blessing of the coming of Christ.
But you can’t wait until the first Sunday of Advent to prepare for that. October is not a moment too soon to consider what materials you might want to use and recommend to your church members. Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas (Sunday, December 2, this year) and goes right through Christmas Eve. Don’t let it slip up on you. Now is the time to prepare.
Advent devotional books are a good resource to consider. For a few years, my church produced our own. Various people in the congregation volunteered to write a prayer, a reflection, a family memory, or a devotional thought related to preparing for Christmas. These were printed in-house and distributed to families the Sunday before Advent so that they were ready to use. This is a resource that can be as elaborate or a simple as you choose. Devotionals could be written for every day or just for the four Sundays. It's a simple and engaging way to involve the church in reflecting on what Christmas means to them as a family in Christ.
But you don’t have to write your own devotional book. There are some other sources, too. For a few years, Buckner Baptist offered free Advent devotional books. If you'd like access to this year's advent devotional, you only have to fill out a short survey. Buckner also has a few other devotionals online. Here’s a sample of a 2015 Buckner Baptist Benevolences Advent Blog.
Both Lifeway Christian Stores and Renovare offer devotional books for sale. Personally, I have found The Christ of Christmas by Calvin Miller to be a meaningful and thought-provoking guide. Last year, I found Unwrapping the Names of Jesus while browsing Amazon.com for resources. One of my Sunday School class members noted that this book has some very helpful activities and resources for families with children and grandchildren to use. It also has some online links to additional resources.
Another of my class members appreciated Watch for the Light, a compilation of readings from Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, and more. Frankly, that one was a little deep for me, but it may be the perfect resource for someone else.
You might encourage your church members to observe Advent individually or in their families, but you might also choose to emphasize the season through sermons and church-wide Bible studies. Some years, I have encouraged my Bible Study group and others to pursue a selected study curriculum through the Advent & Christmas seasons. A group study offers opportunity beyond the personal and family devotions for the Sunday School class or small group to engage in thoughtful reflection with one another. NextSunday.com offers some downloadable e-books. A couple are coming out soon for the Advent & Christmas seasons. Search for The Road to Bethlehem and Jesus’ Birth. (link)
I definitely recommend that families as well as pastors and church leaders check out AdventConspiracy.org. This site offers multiple resources for focusing on reducing the consumeristic mentality that is so prevalent these days. The Advent Conspiracy centers around four principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. It offers video, printed resources, online resources. It has resources for children, adults, and even sermons. Check it out.
An advent wreath is also a very meaning symbol to use in both worship and family settings. Every year before the first Sunday of Advent my husband gets the Advent wreath down from the attic. We purchase a new candle, find the decorations, and set up the wreath. Some families think of the advent wreath as something to engage their children. However, my husband and I continue to find ours a meaningful part of family worship long after our daughter is grown and living in her own apartment.
Over the years, we’ve developed a firm tradition. We read a scripture, light a candle, and let it burn through dinnertime as we eat at the table. After dinner, we stand up, put our arms around one another, blow out the candles, and as we watch the smoke rise to the ceiling, we repeat this verse, “And the smoke of the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”
We also generally laugh about memories we have that involve the advent wreath catching on fire—on top of the table—and having to be rushed outside to the cement driveway. But that’s really a story for another time. All ended well, and you’ll have your own memories and traditions to develop.
So, don’t let those fall pumpkins and Thanksgiving turkeys make you forget that Christmas is coming! Find resources that fit your church or your family, and get ready to Advent this month.