I know, at this point you've been to Walmart, or wherever, and lamented the present reality that Christmas is already knocking at our doors. Even before Halloween, you probably noticed pre-lit trees going up along a few scantly staged aisles of decor featuring snowmen and elven-like characters. Yes, my friends, Christmas is right around the corner. So before it's here and you're caught unprepared, deer-in-headlights mode fully engaged... please, hear me: prepare yourself for the season of Advent now.
If you've been in a church long enough, you've probably heard the term “Advent” tossed around more than a few times. There might have even been a wreath with candles and someone reading a piece of scripture as they lit a candle on said wreath. If you're still unsure of what Advent is, it's okay, you're not alone. Let's dig into the meaning of Advent from a high altitude.
Advent is a season that takes place during the month of December on the church liturgical calendar. In Latin, the word means "coming" and so we observe this season of the church calendar as a time to celebrate the first coming of Christ –as a baby in a manger– as well as a time of expectation for his second coming to make all things new. Advent allows us to reflect on the work set before Christ both in days past and in the age to come; it's a season that creates a sense of longing in the life of Christian for Christ's eventual return.
This year, Advent begins on December 2nd, which is the first Sunday of December, and each week generally observes a theme: hope, peace, joy and love. At Gateway, we'll be jumping into an Advent series based on those themes and how they focus our hearts towards Christ.
Isn’t the church series enough?
Even though we have a series planned out at church to help us experience Advent, there are days between Sundays to be accounted for, so I want to encourage you to find an Advent Devotional to help you walk through this season of longing and expectation for Christ. The trick is this: don’t wait, find one now. We all know how busy December gets every year. We have sports, school functions, office parties, family parties, and Schmoops probably needs to hit up the groomer too. Before you know it, it’s December 23rd and you wonder how in the world you wound up in a ridiculous sweater holding a moose head glass filled with eggnog? And you’re pretty sure you haven’t started your Christmas shopping yet either!
The point is this: begin your quest for an Advent guide now, so when December 1st rolls around you’re ready. There are more than a few resources out there, so let me point you towards a few good resources to explore. Most of them are robust, but most are easy to use and follow.
The Village Church
The Village Church is a multi-site church based in Texas. You might have heard of The Village Church before because their pastor, Matt Chandler, is a popular preacher and speaker. Each year for the past few years they've shared a free Advent Devotional online that they create for their church. The Village Church is always gracious with their resources, so they share it publicly for the benefit of other churches. It not only features a personal study, but a family discipleship study as well. I'll provide the link to their 2017 Advent Devotional, but they will most likely have a 2018 devotional that is released sometime in November.
Gordon-Conwell - Journey to the Manger
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary shares an Advent devotional every year that is unique in that you can sign-up for their email list and every morning you have that day's installment waiting in your inbox. I've used it in years past and found it helpful. It's a little more scholarly in nature, but I'll link to their 2017 edition for you to sample. Be sure to scan through the beginning, middle, and end for a good idea of how their devotional progresses. Additionally, sometime in November they open up the link on their website to the email sign-up, so keep an eye out if you want to utilize that resource this year.
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper
This is a small booklet that Pastor Ben actually gifted each staff member one year and I love it. It really is a small book, and each daily reading is only about 2 pages. It's not going to take up much space in whatever bag you use during your day. It can actually fit in some coat pockets. Despite it's small footprint, each daily reading is wonderfully profound. I really enjoyed reading through this devotional and commend it to you. The best part is... it can be downloaded for free. Of course, you can also purchase it too, but Dr. Piper through his ministry, Desiring God, releases his books for free in digital form. Check it out.
Love Came Down at Christmas by Sinclair B. Ferguson
Now, I've not read this one, yet, because it’s brand new it just fell onto my radar, but I've read other works by Ferguson and I find it hard to believe this wouldn't be helpful. I'm thinking about purchasing a copy to skim through and save for next year. You can never be too prepared.
Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp
If you were with us for our marriage conference earlier this year, then you know this name. Paul David Tripp was the teacher for that event (via video) and now you’re probably thinking about his glorious mustache. Yes, it’s so magnificent it’s probably worth a Google. Tripp a fantastic teacher and speaker, but he's also a wonderful author. I picked this book up at a conference in September to use as my own personal Advent devotional this year. I haven't started reading it yet, but I've skimmed through some of the readings and am really excited about what's contained in it's pages. I feel good recommending this one to people, because I’ve always found his resources incredibly helpful.
These next resources are more family-focused
Prepare Him Room by Marty Machowski
This is a family devotional that is more involved as it contains readings and music and crafts as well as family discussion time. If you love Pinterest projects… this is probably your speed. It's not a daily devotional; it breaks the study into a few parts for each week, but it’s still quite robust so you want to make sure your family’s schedule isn’t too hectic this Advent season.
The Littlest Watchmen by Scott James + Advent Calendar by Alison Mitchell
We own the book and our kids really like it, so I was excited to learn there is an Advent calendar with 25 short devotions now as well. The story uses imagery from Isaiah to follow a little boy named Benjamin as he looks for the arrival of the promised King. The illustrations are fantastic and it's a wonderful way to demonstrate patient waiting for the Lord's return. Here is a link to a bundle that contains both the book and calendar. I ordered the calendar for our house this year.
The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Guide
There are more than a few families at Gateway who’ve made good use of the Jesus Storybook Bible through the years; our copy at home is actually beginning to fall apart. The thing I like about the Jesus Storybook Bible is that it helps children see that Jesus isn’t just present in the New Testament, but it teaches them (and adults, if we’re being honest) to see Jesus in the Old Testament, too. So this is a fun little reading guide that lays out an Advent reading plan using parts of the Jesus Storybook Bible. You have to sign up to gain access to a PDF of the guide, but otherwise it’s a free resource. There are instructions for parents, and then printable cards with each day’s reading on them. Even if you don’t print and cut out the cards, you can still make your own document with the selected readings to follow.
So, those are some resources I commend to you to help focus your gaze toward Christ this Advent season. Again, we all know how busy December gets and how easily it is to get distracted from the purpose of this season. An Advent guide helps push out the noise and tune your heart to the goodness of Christ’s coming and his return. Whether you’re looking for something for your own personal study, or something for your whole family, those should get you started. I hope you'll take the opportunity to dig deeper into the meaning and the joy of Advent.