For a lot of people, Christmas is not always the “most wonderful time of the year.” Between visiting family, buying presents, sending out Christmas cards and everything else, what is supposed to be a special time can turn into a hectic and stressful few weeks.

But the tradition of Advent calls Christians to slow down and think more about what the season truly means.

So what is Advent?

Advent is a strange word to us. It sounds incomplete, like someone was trying to say “adventure” or “Adventist” but didn’t finish the word out. What’s up with the strange word and the strange candle lighting thing anyway? Advent, which is the Latin word for “Coming”, is perhaps one of the oldest Christian traditions. Some suggest it was founded even by the Apostles, that once a year Christians would set aside a time and remember the first coming of Christ, the darkness that surrounded the world so tightly until light came. We do this so we might better prepare our minds and hearts for his second coming… a promise that Christmas gives us. There are three meanings of ‘coming’ that Christians describe in Advent. The first, and most thought of, happened about 2000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a baby to live as a man and die for us. The second can happen now as Jesus comes into our lives to live and reign through His Spirit. And the third will happen in the future when Jesus comes back to the world as King and Judge.

Why Advent?

The spirit of Advent is the spirit of humanity fully alive. We are living in an opportunistic, individualistic, consumer driven culture. The calendar has merged into sales peaks. Black Friday has completely engulfed Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday has become every teen’s favorite day of the year, and now I hear commercials trying to push Small Business Saturday. If we don’t take a more aggressive and even offensive stance, we will always end up getting swallowed up by the deluge of what the culture is purporting. If one were to go onto any financial website, all one would hear right now is the predictions for the spending of this year’s holiday season and to make sure you get your tax break by giving to charity. We’re living in a culture that’s all about consumerism, and it ends up steamrolling the end of the year. All of a sudden, Thanksgiving and Christmas become a blur of craziness. Then we’re left, barely standing, holding a candle at church on Christmas Eve going, “Oh yeah, it really was all about the night when Christ was born.” While the world celebrates Santa Claus, Egg nog, great sales, and high energy festivities, WE reflect on the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas. You might be thinking, “We have Charlie Brown for that thank you very much!” And of course by focusing on the true story of Christmas found in Luke 2 we can in fact focus our minds and hearts where they ought to be. But if we are honest, the Christmas season has become less and less about hope, peace, joy, and love and has become more and more about presents, lights, and the color of Starbucks’ cups. When we recover Advent, we are reminded that this season is about a promise that God is going to do what God has promised He is going to do. And He’s going to do that for every single one of us who has put our hope in Him. Now… there is nothing wrong with celebrating the season and having fun with friends, family, and lots of cookies… but in an effort to try something new this season, River Run is continuing something very old, and we want to invite your family along for the journey. This season was eventually placed at the end of the year in our calendar so that we could remember all the moments that Christ “came” throughout the past year. And by reflecting on that… It was, after all, a wonderful year! We celebrated Easter in a huge way with the #This1Life Campaign, our students led another awesome trip to the Dominican Republic, we successfully launched our Neighborhoods ministry, we rocked our own Summer Surge Youth Camp, we partnered with Mission Interact to accomplish over 50 different local service projects, we packed 760 shoeboxes for children all over the world, we hosted five different children’s summer camps, and we raised close to $50,000 so that our neighbors have clean water again. In all of these we functioned as Christ’s body “coming” to those who needed Him most.

Advent is Needed Today

Advent is a time to reflect on these things, but it is also a time for a humility check, to look inside and understand that none of us have gotten to our destination yet. We are all like Paul, straining towards what’s ahead. Our world is dark and chaotic. Among all of our happy moments and victories this year, we have also, all of us, experienced heartache and pain. Some of us may be facing Christmas this year with a family one less than last year. Perhaps the year was financially straining. Divorce. Rebellion. Death. Sin. Breakups. Fear. Our world is under a dark shadow. Our nation is divided like never before over political partisanship. In the midst of all our darkness we find ourselves singing the chorus of the martyrs, “How long, Oh Lord? Come Lord Jesus!” So this year, just as a star guided the wise men from the East to the baby King, we want to step back and let an ancient tradition be our guide through this season. For we are all seeking the Presence of our God this Christmas. “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine… For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod… For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” –Isaiah 9:2-6 We hope that the readings we will be offering you on the calendar and the devotionals each week will act as an anchor for your family through the coming weeks to remember the most important thing: Jesus is Coming.

THE ADVENT WREATH

The Advent Wreath:

The wreath symbolizing the unity and continuity of the human condition. A constant, never ending sequence of events is interrupted by the candles, representing the pillars of redemption. One candle within the advent wreath is lit on the first Sunday, this year that happens to be November 29th. Two are lit on the second Sunday and so on. Each candle has a different meaning and different churches have given them different meanings, but I have come to use the following:

  • The first is the HOPE candle, representing Isaiah and other prophets in the Bible that predicted the coming of Jesus. Christians also remember the promise of Jesus to return again.
  • The second is the PEACE candle, it represents the Word of Christ, a message of peace on earth, the promise of the Church to be a sanctuary and offer peace for the distressed by offering the Word of God.
  • The third is the JOY candle, representing many people: Mary, the mother of Jesus and the joy she had to have a baby. The joy of the Shepherds who came and worshiped, the joy of the three kings who came to give gifts to the new King, and the joy that was set before Jesus himself, to bear the cross, disregarding its shame.
  • The fourth is the LOVE candle representing Jesus’ disciples throughout history, beginning with the original apostles, who shared Jesus’ love for the world by writing the New Testament, preaching, evangelizing, and laying down their own lives for the sake of the Church.

The middle candle, the Christ Candle, as it were is lit on Christmas Day and represents Jesus, the light of the world.

WEEK 1 - HOPE

The Lighting of the First Candle: Waiting for the Shepherd

We Remember the Meaning of Advent

[Note: Someone can read or paraphrase the following. Or you might want to discuss the meaning of Advent together.]

Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit”. In the Christian season of Advent, we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. Our preparation includes many things:

  • We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah to save, to forgive, and to restore.
  • We remember our hope for the second coming of Jesus.
  • We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins.
  • We prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas into our world . . . and into our hearts.

By lighting one candle each week of Advent, we help ourselves get ready for the birth of Jesus. The candles have different meanings, each based upon the Bible. These meanings help us understand how special the birth of Jesus is for us.

Today we focus on the coming of Christ as our Shepherd.

Prayer for God’s Help

[This prayer can be read, or simply used as a model.]

Dear God, thank you for this season of Advent that helps us prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. As we read the Bible and light a candle, may excitement for Christ’s coming burn in our hearts. Amen.

Scripture Readings

[Parents, you may wish to abbreviate or eliminate certain readings depending on the age(s) of your child(ren). You may also want to read these selections out of a Children’s Bible.]

Psalm 80:1-7

In this Psalm, we join the people of Israel as they invite God their Shepherd to save and to restore them.

Isaiah 40:1-11

This passage looks ahead to the coming of the Lord, who will care for his people like a shepherd.

Revelation 7:9-17

Like God’s people before the coming of Christ, we also look ahead to the time when Christ, who is both the Lamb and our Shepherd, will finish his work and “God will wipe away every tear” from our eyes.

Lighting of the Candle

[As someone lights the first candle, the following should be read or paraphrased.]

We light this candle because, like God’s people centuries ago, we also look forward with hope to the coming of the Shepherd. The candle also reminds us of our need for the light of our Hope in a dark world.

Prayer of Hope

[To be read or paraphrased.]

Dear God, as we light this candle, we hope for your coming as our Good Shepherd. Please gather us in your arms, feed us with spiritual food, wipe away every tear from our eyes, and “let your face shine, that we may be saved”. Come, our Shepherd! Amen.

Closing Song (Optional)

[To be sung to the tune of “O come let us adore him” from “O Come All Ye Faithful.”]

O come to us, our Shepherd,
O come to us, our Shepherd,
O come to us, our Shepherd,
Christ the Lord!

*Material used with permission from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/.
**Minor edits have been made.

WEEK 2 - PEACE

The Lighting of the Second Candle: Waiting for Forgiveness

[Re-light the first candle.]

We Remember the Meaning of Advent

Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit.” In the Christian season of Advent we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. Our preparation includes many things:

  • We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah to save, to forgive, and to restore.
  • We remember our hope for the second coming of Jesus.
  • We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins.
  • We prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas into our world . . . and into our hearts.

By lighting one candle each week of Advent, we help ourselves to get ready for the birth of Jesus. Last week we lit a candle that signified our waiting for God our Shepherd.

Today we focus on the coming of Christ who brings forgiveness from our sins.

Prayer for God’s Help

Dear God, thank you for this season of Advent that helps us to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. As we read the Bible and light a candle, may excitement for Christ’s coming burn in our hearts. Amen.

Scripture Readings

Psalm 130:1-8

In this psalm, we join the psalmist in crying out for God’s forgiveness.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

God promises to make a new covenant with us, in which our sins will be forgiven and forgotten.

Luke 1:68-79

When an angel appears to Zechariah in the temple and tells him that his wife will give birth to a son, the old man doesn’t believe the angel. As a result, Zechariah is unable to speak for many months, until immediately after the birth of his son John (the Baptist). Right after the birth, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks the prophecy that we will read.

Lighting of the Candle

[As someone lights the second candle, the following should be read or paraphrased.]

We light this candle because, like God’s people centuries ago, we also need a Savior who will forgive our sins. We are also reminded of the seriousness of our sin and our great need for God’s forgiveness. We remember that because of the great sacrifice made through Jesus we live forever at Peace with God.

Prayer of Peace

Dear God, as we light this candle, we recognize our sin and our need for a savior. As we stand forgiven in Christ, we acknowledge our longing to be fully be purified so that we might present ourselves to You in righteousness. We pray that we would experience perfect Peace with You as we are reconciled to You completely. Come, Our Savior! Amen!

Closing Song

[To be sung to the tune of “O come let us adore him” from “O Come All Ye Faithful.”]

O come to us, forgive us,
O come to us, forgive us,
O come to us, forgive us,
Christ the Lord!

*Material used with permission from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/.
**Minor edits have been made.

WEEK 3 - JOY

The Lighting of the Third Candle: Waiting with Joy

[Re-light the first two candles]

We Remember the Meaning of Advent

Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit”. In the Christian season of Advent we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. Our preparation includes many things:

  • We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah to save, to forgive, and to restore.
  • We remember our hope for the second coming of Jesus.
  • We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins.
  • We prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas into our world . . . and into our hearts.

By lighting one candle each week of Advent, we help ourselves to get ready for the birth of Jesus. So far we have lit two candles. The first helped us to hope for God our Shepherd; with the second we asked God to come and forgive our sins.

Today we remember the joy of waiting, because we know how the story ends!

Prayer for God’s Help

Dear God, thank you for this season of Advent that helps us to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. As we read the Bible and light a candle, may excitement for Christ’s coming burn in our hearts. Amen.

Scripture Readings

Psalm 126:1-6

This psalm celebrates God’s restoration of Israel — and it cries out to God for future restoration.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Through the prophet Zephaniah God looks ahead to the time when he will renew and heal his people. It will be a day of great rejoicing, both for them and for God!

Philippians 4:4-7

We also rejoice in the Lord, in part because we know that “the Lord is near.” This means, not only that God is with us right now, but that Christ is coming soon.

Lighting of the Candle

[As someone lights the third candle, the following should be read or paraphrased.]

We light this candle because, like God’s people centuries ago, we know that God has come in Christ and that Christ will come again. We rejoice in God’s work in history and in the future. As the candle is lit our hearts are filled with joy because of this promise!

Prayer of Joy

Dear God, as we light this candle, we rejoice. We know how the first act of the story ended – with the birth of Jesus the Messiah. And we know that he will come again in glory. So even though the story isn’t over, we rejoice in our hope. We wait for you, rejoicing! Amen!

Closing Song

[To be sung to the tune of “O come let us adore him” from “O Come All Ye Faithful.”]

We wait for you, rejoicing,
We wait for you, rejoicing,
We wait for you, rejoicing,
Christ the Lord!

*Material used with permission from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/.
**Minor edits have been made.

WEEK 4 - LOVE

The Lighting of the Fourth Candle: Waiting for the Son

[Re-light the first three candles.]

We Remember the Meaning of Advent

Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit.” In the Christian season of Advent, we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. Our preparation includes many things:

  • We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah to save, to forgive, and to restore.
  • We remember our hope for the second coming of Jesus.
  • We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins.
  • We prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas into our world . . . and into our hearts.

By lighting one candle each week of Advent, we help ourselves to get ready for the birth of Jesus. So far we have lit three candles. The first reminded us of our Hope as we wait for God our Shepherd. With the second we asked the Lord to come and forgive our sins and bring us Peace. The third candle signified our joy as we wait.

Today we focus on the coming of the Son of God!

Prayer for God’s Help

Dear God, thank you for this season of Advent that helps us to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. As we read the Bible and light a candle, may excitement for Christ’s coming burn in our hearts. Amen.

Scripture Readings

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-37, 46-52

This psalm celebrates God’s covenant with David and with the descendants of David. He even calls God “my Father” (vs. 26). But the psalmist composed this psalm at a time when God’s blessing upon Israel seemed very far away. He calls upon the Lord to remember his covenant to David.

Isaiah 9:1-7

Deliverance will come for God’s people through the “son” who is given to them. He will sit on the throne of David and his kingdom will last forever.

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is pregnant and will give birth to a son. Her son will also be “the Son of the Most High” and will sit on the throne of David. He will be the reigning Son of David and the divine Son of God!

Lighting of the Candle

[As someone lights the fourth candle, the following should be read or paraphrased.]

We light this candle because we look forward with eagerness to the birth of a child, the son of Mary and the Son of God! The candle reminds us of how we are looking forward to the Son’s birth.

Prayer of Love

Dear God, as we light this candle, we look ahead with hope to the celebration of the birth Jesus and we thank you for the Love that you have expressed for us by sending Your One and Only Son to dwell among us. May we be prepared to welcome him with open arms and open hearts. O come now, Son of David! Amen!

Closing Song

[To be sung to the tune of “O come let us adore him” from “O Come All Ye Faithful.”]

O come now, Son of David,
O come now, Son of David,
O come now, Son of David,
Christ the Lord!

*Material used with permission from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/.
**Minor edits have been made.

THE CHRIST CANDLE

The Lighting of the Christ Candle: Our Waiting is Over!

Christmas Eve or Christmas Day

[Re-light the four outer candles on the wreath]

We Celebrate the Birth of Christ

In the season of Advent we have used the Advent wreath and its candles to help us get ready for this great celebration of the birth of Christ.

When we lit the first candle- the Hope Candle, we asked God to come and be our Good Shepherd. God our Shepherd has come in Jesus Christ!

When we lit the second candle- the Peace Candle, we asked God to come and forgive our sins and bring us Peace. God has come in Jesus Christ to take our sins and die upon the cross so that we might be forgiven!

When we lit the third candle- the Joy Candle, we felt joyful even in our longing for Christ to come. Christ, who has been born in a manger, will come again in glory to wipe away every tear from our eyes!

When we lit the fourth candle- the Love Candle, we remembered God’s Love for us in that He sent His one and only Son – the son of Mary, the Son of David, and the Son of God! This Son has been born! He is Immanuel – God with us!

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus who forgives our sins, Jesus who will come again, Jesus the son of Mary, the Son of David, and the very Son of God!

Prayer for God’s Help

Dear God, as we light the center candle today, may we celebrate with full joy the birth of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Amen!

Scripture Readings

Micah 5:1-5

God promises through the prophet Micah that his future rule will come from Bethlehem, even though this town is, indeed, a “little town” and quite insignificant.

Luke 2:1-20

Jesus the Messiah is born in Bethlehem!

Psalm 145

Let us join the psalmist in offering praise to God for his mighty works!

Lighting of the Candle

[As someone lights the center, the following should be read or paraphrased.]

We light this candle with great joy and celebration, because Christ is born in Bethlehem. God’s Son has come into the world to be our Savior! And he will come again in glory.

Prayer of Adoration

Dear God, as we light this candle, we rejoice in the birth of your Son. May we worship him, welcome him, and make room for him in our hearts. O come, let us adore him! Amen!

Closing Song

O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!
*Material used with permission from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/.
**Minor edits have been made.