We (my fellow interns and I at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church) put together an advent guide for our students. If you are interested in using it for yourself this Christmas season, you can easily download the PDF version here! Below is a little explanation of the heart behind advent. Hope you enjoy!
Have you ever just stood in line at the grocery store? I mean JUST stood in line. Not checking your phone, not reading the magazine covers along the aisle. Just waiting, just being? I try to do it every now and then. As in, when I realize I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for my order to be called at a coffee shop, my first instinct is to pull out my phone and do the usual round of email, social media, email, etc. So I’ve tried to develop a habit of leaving my phone in my pocket and just waiting. Just taking in the moment before me, practicing patience and mindfulness. I’m not very good at it, but I’m trying.
Honestly, it usually feels uncomfortable. It kind of makes me feel like a weirdo. It almost feels like I NEED to be doing something while I wait, and that I’m somehow doing something wrong by just standing or sitting there, doing nothing. Because that’s just not how we function anymore. We are terrible at waiting! In fact, we just don’t wait. We fill every single moment of time with something, whether that is texting, phone calls, taking in news or looking at social media. And while we are doing that we just so happen to also be standing in line. But we aren’t actually standing in line; we are doing something else entirely. We’re avoiding just waiting at all costs.
I don’t say this to shame you for looking at your phone while you are standing in line. I still do it probably 75% of the time! But as we get ready to enter into the season of advent, starting on Sunday, I think it is really important for us to think about this idea of waiting. That is, after all, the goal of advent. It is a time for us to practice waiting. To remember what it must have been like for God’s people who, for so many years, awaited a promised savior. To try to look at the Christmas story with a fresh perspective. Not as an old story that we know by heart, but as incredibly good news that meets an extraordinary need of our hearts, which is the need for a savior, for life, for healing.
But during this advent season, instead of just waiting, we do something else entirely. We fill our time with shopping and parties and traveling and everything else that, while not bad things, can occupy all of our time. And so we stumble into the Christmas Eve service with a busy, crowded heart and mind. As a result, we hear the Christmas story and remember the facts, but we don’t really hear it. We don’t receive it as incredibly good news. Because instead of waiting for Christ in December, we make ourselves busy. Instead of choosing to celebrate the holiday because of and in light of what Christ has done, we are busying ourselves for a holiday that just so happens to be about Christ.
In those rare moments when I remember to keep my phone tucked away at the grocery store, I am almost always rewarded by a richer experience. I find a peace that I don’t find on my phone. I find time and opportunity to talk to the cashier. I remember to breathe deeply and appreciate the things and the people around me. Just waiting creates a deeper experience and satisfaction that I have never found looking down at my phone.
I believe that the same could be true of Christmas. If we can figure out a way to not fill all of our time with busyness, if we can learn not to rush through the season, we just might find that we experience in a deeper way. That is why we celebrate advent. Not to add another thing to the holiday season, but to create space so that we can see and hear the story as the incredibly good news that it is.
As I said above, the interns and I put together an advent devotional guide for our middle school, high school, and college students. It has scripture readings for each day, a theme for each week, and some practices and questions for reflection. While we did try to make it age specific, my hope is that it would be helpful to people in all stages of life. So, I’ve included a link to download the guide here. Whether you use this guide, pick a book to walk through, use a plan on the Bible app, or just designate some special time for reflection, I hope that the season of advent will create a rich, full, and fruitful celebration of Christmas for you and your family.