Amidst all the hectic preparations for Christmas, many of us fail to give Advent its due as a time to prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Jesus and anticipate his return at the end of time. If we are willing to make a commitment to slow down and reflect on this sacred season, there are plenty of resources available to guide us on our journey.
Beginning Advent with a retreat can be done in many different ways. A local retreat center or other organization may offer an in-person retreat for a morning, afternoon, or longer period of time. PRC – Practical Resources for churches is offering its annual Advent mini-retreat on November 19, 2016 at Hope Lutheran Church in Selden. You can click here for more information. You can also find a variety of virtual retreats online, from a short meditation you can download at no cost called “A Lesson in Waiting,” to a four week paid Upper Room course with Pamela C. Hawkins, author of Prepare the Way: Cultivating a Heart for God in Advent.
There are many wonderful devotional books with readings and activities for each day of Advent, such as Beth Richardson’s The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas, which offers a quotation, scripture, passage, reflection, prayer, and “word” to carry with you through the day for each day in Advent. All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings offers meditations and original woodcuts which “reflect on how wild animals adapt when darkness and cold descend.”
Gathering with a small group for an Advent study is another way to keep the focus on Christ. Cokesbury offers a number of studies and also provides an Advent Planning Guide which compares the various studies. Church Publishing offers A Thrill of Hope which has a 50-minute DVD and tells the Christmas story from the gospels of Matthew and Luke; it includes the artwork of John August Swanson. The study can be done in six sessions or combined into one session.
For those looking for simple ways to get away from the consumerism of the pre-Christmas season, check out the Advent Conspiracy website. It was started by a group of pastors who advocate four tenets: worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. They offer resources for churches and families to make the holidays less materialistic; you can donate to their fund to provide clean water for people all around the world.
If you’re involved in planning a joyous Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship service, don’t forget those who are grieving or suffering from depression during the holiday season. Consider offering a Blue Christmas service, which is often held on the longest night of the year, on or near December 21st. Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church offers a liturgy for a Blue Christmas service. There are numerous other liturgies available online, including one called When Christmas Hurts posted on the Young Clergy Women website.