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What is Advent?

The Christmas season evokes different emotions in different people. Some people are filled with a sense of joy, while others experience sadness. Most likely, you have a range of emotions. You may find Christmas to be a joyful reminder of Jesus’ birth, but in your gladness, you also feel the sorrow of missing a loved one or mourning a broken relationship. Sometimes “Merry Christmas” just doesn’t seem appropriate.

We hope this guide can aid in making your Christmas genuinely merry--a merriment that comes from our steadfast hope in Jesus’ return to renew all things. He will right the wrongs done by us and injustices done to us.

Let’s pray we can use this Advent season to make Christmas merry in the most real sense. 


History of Advent

The term Advent means “coming.” It has Latin roots and is most often used to describe the incarnation of Christ or the second coming of Christ. As Christians, we celebrate the arrival of Jesus and look forward to His return. The forward-looking aspect is a comforting reminder to press on living for Jesus in this life. Christians of earlier generations would use the phrase “advent of our Lord” when referring to Jesus’ birth and “His second advent” when referring to Jesus’ return to judge the nations.

The liturgy of the traditional church calendar celebrates the season of Advent in the lead up to Christmas. In the western church, the four Sundays before Christmas constitute the season of Advent. The eastern church begins celebrating in mid-November. Many believe this unique celebration of the Advent season started as early as the fourth century.

As evangelicals, we see no mandate in Scripture to practice certain festivals. However, what we do see is God placing special events and seasons in the lives of His people to remember the blessings He has given His children and hope for the promises yet to come. This Advent season, our desire for Soteria is that we use this opportunity to celebrate the incarnation and rest in the assurance of Jesus' return.


About this guide

This guide is a complement to our church family’s celebration of Advent for your family to follow. In the history of Christianity, the celebration includes both the first and second Advents of Christ--the incarnation and the second coming respectively. This guide has opportunities to both reflect on the past and hope in the future.

Each week follows a similar layout: a scripture, a reading, the lighting of the Advent wreath, a carol, a children’s activity, a question for reflection and a prayer. We hope and pray the wonder of the Christ child and the return of King Jesus will be in your heart this season. We hope this guide can play a small role in your Advent celebration. While designed as a whole, feel free to use as much or as little of this booklet as you like.

The readings

Each reading was written by one of our staff members. We hope you find them encouraging and relevant.

The Advent wreath

The Advent wreath looks like a regular Christmas wreath, but instead of hanging on your front door, it lays flat on a table. Four candles are placed within the wreath to represent the four weeks leading up to Christmas. A candle, called the Christ candle, is placed in the center of the wreath.

In early Christianity, the light of a candle or lamp symbolized the light of Christ shining into the darkness of the world. The concept of Christ as the light of the world is also found in Scripture. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

The prayers

The time we set aside for celebrating is only meaningful because of the fuller redemptive story. The prayers in this guide are designed to inform us about the person of Christ. They are adaptations from The Valley of Vision, a collection of prayers from the Puritans. These prayers are best used as a springboard for your family prayers.

 Week One: Hope

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. And there was a prophetess, Anna…She was advanced in years…She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.
— Luke 2:34-38

Reading: A Lesson on Hope

by Mike Augsburger

Years ago, the French government enacted a 35-hour work week. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice! Yet, a few years later people were lobbying for a 32- or 30-hour work week. From our vantage point across the ocean, we think, “Hey folks, stop complaining! You already have it good with a 35-hour week!” This points out a key principle about humanity: privileges become entitlements, and entitlements are often unappreciated.

We have no backstory on Simeon and Anna. All we know is they were elderly, righteous laypeople who dedicated their geriatric years to temple service. They lived out their future hope tangibly in the present. What was their hope? Were they hoping in a better life, a better government, a better job or less homework? No. Their hope was firmly planted in the future coming of the Messiah who would rule and reign.

They joyfully anticipated the glory of their future Savior in a present reality dominated by the cruel Romans. Their hope was not set in a shorter work week or less homework. They believed the promises of Scripture and as a result, found an anchor for their souls.

Advent provides a window not only to view the cradle, but also the Savior on the cross. We celebrate both comings (advents) of Jesus. If pre-cross saints could display an unwavering faith in God’s promises, how much more should our faith be post-cross? Hebrews 6:19-20 says, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever….”

Friends, we stand on this side of Calvary, having witnessed the life, the miracles, the death and the resurrection of the long-awaited Messiah! The puzzle of God’s universal plan is nearly finished, and we have a front-row seat to watch it unfold. This Advent season, spend some time with your family discussing the great hope we have in the finished work of Jesus.

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Lighting of the Advent wreath

Have one family member light one Advent candle.


Carol: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Mendelssohn)

by Charles Wesley

About the authors: Charles Wesley, the youngest of 18 children, wrote more than 3,000 hymns-- many of which are still sung by millions. Wesley is considered one of the most prolific hymn writers in history.

Contemporary George Whitefield enjoyed Wesley’s hymn but changed the first line from “Hark! how all the welkin rings” to “Hark! the herald angels sing.” Nowhere in the Bible did angels sing about the birth of Christ. Yet because of Whitefield’s change, most people today believe Luke 2:13 refers to singing angels rather than a proclamation by the heavenly hosts.


Lyrics

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King!

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th' angelic hosts proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing

“Glory to the newborn King.”

Christ, by highest heav'n adored:

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of the Virgin's womb.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;

Hail, th'incarnate Deity:

Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King.”


Hail! the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail! the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris'n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die:

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King.”

Come! Desire of nations come!

Fix in us Thy humble home.

Rise the woman's conqu’ring seed,

Bruise in us the serpent's head.

Adam’s likeness now efface,

Stamp Thine image in its place.

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in Thy love.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King.”


Children’s Activity

Big Idea: Waiting and hoping for God is more exciting and worthwhile than any earthly gift.

Materials Needed: Gift-wrapped box with a small, random item inside.

Lesson: Waiting and waiting. This lesson is a simple test of patience. Show children a beautifully wrapped box and explain they will be able to open it and look inside. But first, they will have to wait. Have children sit as still as possible for at least a minute (variable, depending on age) without any movement or noise. Is it challenging? Why?

Discussion: Briefly discuss the struggle of patience. What kinds of things do we have to wait for? (Birthdays, visits from friends, special events, etc.) Why is it hard to wait?

Allow children to unwrap the package, revealing its contents: a toothpick (or a cotton ball, twine--anything random and unexpected). Would this be an exciting Christmas present? What were they hoping it would be?

Explain what early believers were waiting for and how God surprised them.

What are the best parts about Christmas? Why do we get excited about it? But why do we celebrate Christmas to begin with? What do you think people were waiting for in Jesus’ time? End your discussion time with prayer, thanking God for the hope we have in Jesus.


Question for Reflection

Where are you tempted to place your hope? A better life, a better government, a better job or less homework? Take a few minutes to think or discuss with family and friends.


Prayer

God and Father,

May our hearts be reminded of your love in the manger of Jesus’ birth,

in his garden of agony,

in his cross of suffering,

in his tomb of the resurrection,

in his heavenly intercession.

May we be deepened,

in our understanding of your glory and our vileness,

your majesty and our meanness,

your beauty and our deformity,

your purity and our filth,

your righteousness and our iniquity.

You have loved us everlastingly and unchangeably.

May we love you as we are loved.

Amen.