Christmas always feels like it is right around the corner. Churches all over the country will soon be making plans to create one of their most meaningful times of the year. With the Christmas season will come the Christian celebration of Advent.
Advent in One Sentence: Advent is a season celebrated by Christians as a time of waiting for and anticipating the celebration of Jesus’ birth as well as His second coming.
There is always pressure to create a Christmas sermon series outline that is unique, fresh, and creative – and that pressure is only heightened by preaching an Advent sermon series.
In this article you will learn how to plan an Advent sermon series calendar, discover new verses to consider preaching on, find new songs to consider using in your services that connect with Advent, identify the angle you’d like to take to communicate the beauty of Advent, and much more.
Before we get into preaching an Advent sermon series, let’s look at what Advent even is and where it came from.
Preaching the History of Advent
It is important for your church to understand the historical origins and significance of Advent in order to better connect them with the tradition. For instance, the Bible never mentions Advent and for some, there will be questions as to why their church is observing something that isn’t found in the Bible.
Below are key takeaways regarding the history and origins of Advent.
- Advent comes from the Latin word “Adventus” which is translated from the Greek word “parousia” – which means “coming.”
- Parousia was used to describe both Jesus’ arrival as a baby and His second coming.
- We don’t have many details about the beginnings of Advent, but we do spot a discussion about the concept at the Council of Saragossa in 380 AD.
- The Council of Saragossa was not the creation of Advent, but the doubling down on the Christian belief that God became flesh in the form of Jesus and lived among us.
- The celebration and worship during the time of Advent came about during the 8th and 9th century.
- Advent isn’t found in Scripture.
- Many denominations observe Advent including Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.
- Advent is celebrated both corporately in the church and privately in homes.
- The specific dates of Advent change every year. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (known as Advent Sunday) and always ends on Christmas Eve.
Once you have an understanding of the tradition, it’s time for you to put together this year’s Advent sermon series. The rest of this article will detail how to do exactly that.
Planning Your Advent Sermon Series
When it comes to planning your Advent sermon series, the sooner you begin the better. This is true for planning any kind of series, but especially when planning for Advent. An Advent sermon series will include several extra elements that need to be accounted for during your service and in your message.
Getting out ahead in your planning allows you to limit the amount of week-of preparation work, allowing you to have more margin to avoid feelings of burnout.
How early should you begin planning your Advent sermon series?
Planning ahead is key to providing you with time to identify illustration options, word-pictures, stories that will connect your sermon series to Advent, and creating service experiences that are well thought out and seamless. You want to start with as many advent sermon series ideas as possible.
When you know what you want to create several weeks, even months ahead of time, you are choosing to cook with a crockpot instead of a microwave oven. No one needs to tell you how much better a meal is when it’s cooked slowly verses warmed over in 30 seconds. The same is true for your sermon series.
No one needs to tell you how much better a meal is when it’s cooked slowly verses warmed over in 30 seconds. The same is true for your sermon series.
Deciding how early you should begin planning your Advent sermon series should be based on several factors:
- How long will it take to create your Advent sermon outline?
- How many staff and volunteers will need to be on board with planning?
- Will the observance of Advent be the main theme of the entire service or just the message?
- What type of engagement do you want your congregation to have with Advent outside of weekly services?
Giving consideration to these factors, you will be the best judge of how early you should begin planning. That said, at least two months before your first Advent service is a reasonable time to start planning.
Regardless of how much time you have to plan, using the tips provided in this guide will allow you to accelerate your calendar and prepare something that is memorable and special for your congregation, whether you’re planning a more traditional Advent sermon series or something a little more out of the box.
6 Steps to Planning Your Advent Sermon Series
Step 1 – Pray and Read
The first and most important step in planning your Advent sermon series is to slow down, pray, and read. If you don’t follow God’s direction in all things – planning a sermon series included – it won’t matter how clever your sermons are or how creative your team is.
Make it a point to specifically pray about Advent and how God desires you to approach the coming season. Ask Him for guidance, for creativity, and for clarity of mind.
After Amen, begin reading through Scriptures associated with Advent. For your convenience, we have compiled a list of Advent Bible passages so you can have a starting point for reading. Work through these Scriptures over the course of a few days.
- Isaiah 40:9-11
- Isaiah 52:7-9
- Genesis 3:8-15
- Isaiah 40:1-5
- Genesis 15:1-6
- Deuteronomy 18:15-19
- Psalm 89:1-4
- Isaiah 11:1-10
- Micah 5:2-3
- Zechariah 6:12-13
- Malachi 3:1-6
- John 1:1-8
- John 1:9-18
- Mark 1:1-3
- Luke 1:5-25
- Luke 1:39-80
- Isaiah 7:10-13
- Luke 1:26-35
- Isaiah 9:2-7
- Matthew 1:18-25
- Luke 2:1-20
- Matthew 2:1-2
- Luke 2:21-35
Step 2 – Invite Others Into the Process
The second step in planning your Advent sermon series is to invite others into the process of praying, reading, and, eventually, brainstorming and planning. If you’ve never done this before it might feel a bit odd. Just to be clear, you are not giving out permission to write your sermons or determine the direction of Advent. You are simply inviting others into spiritual disciplines centered around the topic of Advent in order to hear from God.
When you invite others into your sermon series planning process, you are not giving out permission for them write your sermons or determine the series direction. You are simply inviting them into spiritual disciplines centered around the topic of Advent in order to hear from God.
The first thing to do is to simply encourage them in what you did in step 1 – pray and read. Send an email, send a text, or make a phone call, and let your co-laborers know what you’re working on and what you’d like them to do alongside you.
When they say yes, send them the list of Advent Scriptures above.
Before we move on, one of the questions you may be asking yourself is, who do I invite into the process?
If you don’t have a sermon planning team, here’s a starter list of who you could consider inviting to join you:
- The Worship Pastor or lay leader equivalent
- The Associate Pastor
- The Youth Pastor or lay leader equivalent
- An Elder or your church’s equivalent
Step 3 – Set a Date for Your Advent Sermon Series Planning Meeting
It’s going to be best to set aside a couple hours, at least, for your Advent sermon series planning meeting. Regarding when to schedule it, that depends on where you’re at in the year. If you’re coming up to the fall season, you’ll want to schedule it sooner rather than later. If you’re in the spring, you can stay well ahead and get it scheduled for a date in the summer.
It’s important that when you send the meeting date for your team, you include a couple of things for them to be doing in anticipation of the meeting. Things like:
- Continue praying and reading
- Write down advent sermon series themes to bring to the meeting
- Write down ideas for additional elements to help your church make the most of Advent
You could very easily create a short worksheet with everything you’d like to have them prepare and include that with your message to them. This will put everyone on the same page – literally and figuratively – and help you make the most of your time together.
4 – Lead the Meeting and Leave With a Plan
When everyone comes with ideas bathed in prayer, you’re going to have a lot to work with. The important part will be documenting the ideas and one of the best ways to do this is by writing them all on a giant whiteboard so everyone can see.
As you’re listing ideas, one by one, it is inevitable that you will start to get a vision for what illustrations you may want to use, or what creative elements you could add to your service. Write those down as well. Once you’ve filled up the whiteboard, use the camera on your phone to take a picture, then erase the board and fill it up again!
After everyone has offered their ideas, it’s time to narrow things down and start putting together your Advent sermon series outline. You will have far more ideas than you can actually use for this year’s series and that’s okay – now you have a head start on next year!
Narrowing down the ideas will go hand-in-hand with creating your series outline. It will take honesty and leadership to navigate through this meeting. Some good ideas will need to be set aside to make way for the right ideas. The end goal is to have ideas that can inspire a good outline.
Coming out of this meeting you will want have to identified the following:
- The key Scripture for each week of Advent
- A preliminary big idea for each sermon – these will likely be reworked and tweaked
- Working sermon titles for each message (how to write magnetic sermon titles)
Bonus items would include:
- An angle to the sermon series
- Additional elements to help your church observe Advent
- Some Christmas hymns identified for each week that will go with the sermon ideas for the sermon series bumper
- Direction for the sermon series graphics
All of these bonus items will be covered in greater detail later in this article.
5 – Stay Ahead and Compile Research (And Identify Bonus Items Above if Applicable)
How far out you are from preaching this Advent sermon series will determine how quickly you will need to start wrapping skin around your series and compiling research. If you and your team were able to get to the bonus items listed in the previous step, you can move forward with step six. If you did not get to those items, you will want to work on them right away.
Your key Scriptures, song selections, illustrations, sermon big ideas, working titles, visual artwork direction, and series angle will be the skeleton of your Advent sermon series and will make you ready to start wrapping flesh around the edges.
6 – Write Each Sermon
With all the aforementioned steps completed, it is time to get to work on writing your sermon. If you’re out several weeks, drafting your sermon outline as you would any other sermon is one way to go. However, if you’re looking to improve your process, now is the time to do it! Because much of Advent is predetermined, it makes your Advent sermon an ideal candidate for growing your sermon process. Articles like this one, How to Write a Sermon: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide by our Founder, Justin Trapp, are plentiful across the internet and can inspire new, positive habits.
You can also go the direction of finding resources such as the Ministry Pass Sermon Writing Toolkit that inform the evolution of your sermon writing process.
Ministry Pass also has a free video from Mark Batterson, author of Chase the Lion, all about how Pastor Mark and National Community Church plan sermon series. You can watch that video below.
Selecting Advent Music: Hymns and Songs with Corresponding Biblical Passages
As you’re putting together the various elements for your Advent sermon series, you’ll want to be sure to plan out at least one Christmas hymn for each week of the series.
To help you out, the Ministry Pass team created a list of eight Christmas hymns that are Advent-centric, complete with the supporting Scripture for each one. It’s one thing to sing the hymns as a congregation, it’s another to connect the music to the corresponding biblical passages and take the significance of the lyrics to a completely new level.
Identify Your Angle – Advent Sermon Series Examples
Cyclical messages can be a blessing and – for lack of a better axiom – a curse. The curse is that you are ‘forced’ to do the same theme year after year. You can feel like your hands are tied and pressure to ‘one-up’ the year before.
The blessing is that because Christmas comes around every year, thousands of ministers, pastors, and creatives have been working to create impactful Advent sermon series for years. While there is pressure to create something new, we know that there isn’t anything new under the sun. It’s all been done before.
What’s encouraging is that some of the most amazing Advent sermon series ideas have never been done by you and therein lies amazing opportunity.
As you choose which angle you’d like to approach Advent from, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Waiting on God
- The Light Has Come
- When God surprises you
- Arrivals (think: airport, bus station, etc.) – Jesus is coming again and He has come already
- Simplicity – how Jesus’ arrival was simple, yet profound (our new fascination with minimalism)
- Fear – dive into all the fears of our day and how Jesus’ arrival can extinguish our fears
- Messy – for Mary, it was socially messy, for Jesus’ arrival, the environment was messy, and for us, our lives are messy, but Jesus’ arrival shows us God steps into our mess and offers to clean us up – then compare how messy it is to host family and friends for Christmas celebrations
As you go through this list and explore other Advent sermon series idea and angles, write down the ones you immediately connect with most. There might be pressure to decide and commit to a specific idea – don’t allow that pressure to stifle your exploration. Once you have a list you feel good about, start leaning on the direction you received from God during the prayer portion of your planning and revisit some of the same prayers you prayed.
Advent Sermon Series Examples
As you start to wrap your big idea into sermon series titles that communicate well and have a mass appeal, here are some examples that can start to bring it all together.
Advent-ually: A Story of Hope, Promise & Expectation
From Word & Worship Church in Pittsburgh, PA. This series, Advent-ually plays on the idea and angle of waiting while having hope, clinging to a promise, and having a great expectation. As far as the series graphic, it’s a great play on handcrafted Christmas gifts. It’s seasonal and a more traditional approach to an Advent sermon series.
From Vineyard Columbus in Westerfield, OH. This Advent sermon series, Visitations, has a general graphic, but the approach of the series as a whole is focused on connecting our “waiting on God” with the Jews waiting on the Messiah. It speaks to the tension of realizing that God often intervenes in our lives in ways we weren’t expecting – like sending the Messiah into the world and having Him arrive in a manger instead of a palace.
From Ministry Pass. Many of us take the same approach to Advent that we take to Lent—it’s an unpleasant season of waiting that we want to get through as quickly as possible. In other words, we want to arrive at the awaiting Christmas celebration. But Advent is a powerful season for believers, a time when we rehearse a common story of God’s people: waiting on him to fulfill his promises and learning to trust him in our waiting. This four-week Advent sermon series will look at four different places of waiting in the story of God’s people. In the process, we’ll consider how to trust God’s promises and work for redemption in our times of waiting.
She Shouldn’t Be Here
From Sachse’s Church in Sachse, TX. This Advent sermon series comes from the angle of looking at the women in Jesus’ genealogy. As they put it, “the idea is that they shouldn’t have made the list, Jesus shouldn’t have been in a stable and we shouldn’t be accepted by God. But Grace.”
Advent: The Light Has Come
From Ministry Pass. This four-week Christmas sermon series teaches the importance of the season of Advent, in which we prepare to receive from God. Preparation takes practice, readiness, waiting, and allowing God to go beyond our expectations to fulfill his will in our lives.
Additional Elements to Help Your Church Observe Advent
The Advent calendar will span between 576-648 hours. Your weekly service will only account for anywhere between 4-6 hours of that calendar. Why does this matter? Because your service is where the celebration of Advent should begin. The hearts, minds, and homes of your people is where it should bloom into a meaningful, life altering experience.
If you are committed to getting the most life out of your Advent sermon series, you will want to include additional elements to help your church observe Advent. Here is a list of ideas our pastors at Ministry Pass have already pulled together for you.
Advent is a great way to help people establish a daily devotional time. During the Advent season, people are more aware of what it means to have a relationship with Jesus than just about any other time of the year. The fact is, many people will at least give a daily devotional time a shot if they have an idea of what it would look like for them.
Publishing a devotional guide or borrowing one from somewhere else would go a long way in helping people understand what the Advent season means and help them establish the basic discipline of a devotional time.
In addition to a devotional, help people find reading plans that go along with the season. The Bible app can be an asset for this or you could establish your own by breaking up a Gospel into individual days of reading.
A reading plan is also great because it puts the entire church body in the same scripture throughout the week. This would help greatly if the preacher is teaching on the same scripture as well.
Daily Live Reading
Why not utilize Facebook Live or another streaming service and have a pastor, staff member, or volunteer do a daily live reading and interaction. The person doing it could open up the comments for questions or prayer requests as well. This would give the congregation a regular connection point throughout the season and help them get to know staff members better, as well.
A weekly email in addition to any other weekly email you send out would also be great. This email could have a devotional in it or could be a list of resources for families to celebrate the season together.
A great way to build a text list for your church is to send out daily encouragement texts throughout the season. There are many services out there that allow your congregants to text a number to sign up. Not only could this help you encourage your congregation throughout the Advent season, but it would also help you have a contact list to utilize at other times (obviously, inform the congregants that you’ll use the number throughout the year as well).
Planning and Promoting Your Advent Sermon Series
With all the effort that goes into creating a successful Advent sermon series, it is essential to put a strong effort towards promoting the series to your congregation, as well as the community outside the church. When you weigh the costs of all the planning prior to your series and the work that will go into each Advent service, you will want to put the end result in front of as many people as possible.
Knowing where to begin if you’ve never taken the time to promote a series to your church can be a bit mysterious. We’ve put together a great piece on How to Promote Your Advent Sermon Series complete with point-by-point instructions for getting your series in front of as many people as possible.
There are several key points you’ll want to make sure to follow up on.
- Create a strong Advent sermon series graphic. This can also be known as series artwork. From that artwork, you can create website images, social media graphics, email graphics, print graphics, and more.
- Video is another medium that will help you communicate and promote the compelling points of your upcoming series. Whether through teaser videos, bumper videos, countdown videos, or a welcome video shot on a Sunday morning, video reaches an entirely different set of eyes than text or graphics.
- Original photography is the best way to promote your upcoming series on social media. Taking photos of a typical weekend service will provide you with a visual of what visitors can expect, helping them to decide if your church might be a good fit for them. You can also take pictures of Advent series set designs, service programs, and other imagery related to your series.
- When you have great photos that capture the personality of your church and a clear, compelling message for why a visitor should attend, you have the essential elements for a powerful Facebook Ad. Consider setting aside anywhere from $10 to $500 to promote your services to the community on Facebook.
- Use original photography from your church services and start sharing on Instagram. Use appropriate hashtags, for instance #yourcityname and tag your location in posts. Using relevant hashtags and location tagging is a great way to be found by those looking for a church in your area.
- Create an outline for a series of emails you’d like to send to your church database or email list with key information about the Advent series. Provide compelling reasons for visitors to attend that they can then share with friends and family whom they would like to invite.
- Design a simple invite card that congregation members can take with them to use as a way to invite others to attend your series. Use your series artwork on one side and provide the essential details of the church on the other side. Place them on seats and make them available at your welcome desk.
Marketing and promotion can be an afterthought of series planning – however, it shouldn’t be. You will work hard to pull off a memorable Advent sermon series; good marketing and promotion will help you ensure that the people who need to be there, will be there.
Preaching Through Your Advent Sermons
Once you have brainstormed your series, outlined your messages, created artwork, brought your volunteers on board, and planned out your services, it is finally time to preach your sermons.
You’re a pro at preaching, you do it every week. For an Advent sermon series there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind week by week.
Now for more of the how-tos of preaching this series.
Understand the pain and baggage people bring with them.
The people arriving at your church during Advent will come in with a story. Their story may be filled with hopes and dreams or it could be a season of hurt and pain. The Christmas season has a way of magnifying our stories. Along with excitement for the season and the future, comes reminders of broken relationships, divorce in the family, and even past abuse.
Don’t be surprised if you can spot individuals doing everything they can to hold themselves together and get through your service. While you may not know the source of their emotion, underneath you can be sure that they are stressed, run down, tired, partied out, wondering if their kids are thankful, wondering if they will fail Christmas with their family, and maybe even worrying about the next year and what it will bring.
Yes, Christmas has a way of bringing all this up in many.
Plan time and space in your sermons to give your listeners a moment to catch their breath, and look for opportunities to remind them that the God who planned the birth of Jesus and orchestrated the day, time, and location of His arrival, is aware of their reality and equipped to love and guide them through the season. Engaging everyone in the room with the diversity of baggage, expectations, and history present is a challenge that pastors are familiar with and during your Advent series, those challenges will be heightened – take that into consideration and manage the sensitivities with the same grace and truth you use the rest of the year.
Tell the story, even though it’s been heard a thousand times before
A moment of honesty for pastors: Advent and the Christmas story can be hard to communicate because you know other people know it, even little walkers who can’t talk yet know the story. It’s a difficult story to keep fresh and to find ways to make it relevant.
There is an increasingly large number of surveys, articles, opinion pieces, and data showing that one of the things visitors and unchurched people crave in a church is tradition and authenticity. Said differently, people want an authentic and traditional faith experience. This is great news for you because if there is one thing our culture finds authentic and traditional to faith, it is the story of Jesus’ birth
People are seeking an authentic and traditional faith experience. This is great news for you because if there is one thing our culture finds authentic and traditional to faith, it is the story of Jesus’ birth.
While being true to your church’s weekly experience, don’t put any added pressure on yourself to be hip, cool, or something that you don’t need to be. The people have come for an authentic and traditional Christmas experience. They can get Santa Claus at the mall. They can get Christmas movies at the theater. They can get sleigh rides at the city park. What they can’t get anywhere else is the story of God making Himself into flesh and bone, being born of a virgin, and making a manger in a stable His first bed.
Jesus is the star of the story, so just talk about Jesus and you won’t go wrong.
Surprise people with the story
As you tell the story, feel free to surprise people with truths about God, Advent, the story, or what’s happening in the text under the surface.
You could talk about the doubts from the different characters and juxtapose that with the response from Mary. You could talk about the importance of the names found throughout the genealogy of Christ. You could tell the stories of Christ’s ancestors (Boaz and Ruth is always a favorite). Talk about how the birth is just part of the story – the whole goal of the story is the cross and Christ’s resurrection, which is what we will remember and celebrate in just a few months.
The list of how you can surprise people is endless because the Bible is timeless!
If you’re still not quite sure how to make the story surprising, one exercise that might be helpful would be to make a list of all the questions people have about their lives in relation to God. Take that list, and answer their questions using the story of Advent as your source of answers.
This exercise should give you years worth of Christmas sermons and series.
Be brief and to the point
Finally, it is important to be brief and get to your point. The weeks leading up to Christmas, people will have their weekends filled with events. Family gatherings, work dinners, gift exchanges, and so many other festivities that church is just one part of their celebration.
People will come to church for the holiday, but they don’t want to spend the holiday at church.
Intentionally making your Advent messages the shortest ones of the year can work in your favor. You want your people to leave church with a sense of understanding, yet, anticipation. You don’t want to exhaust Advent to the point that each sermon sounds just like the previous week’s sermon. You have several weeks to use your material, so space it out and leave people wanting more.
Your Advent sermons are just part of the marathon of your preaching ministry, not the end of it.
Final Thoughts for Preaching A Memorable Advent Sermon Series
The best news a pastor could ever receive about a topic is this: You will have a chance to preach it again next year. The story is so rich and the illustrations so plentiful that there is a very real balance of what will be best for this year’s series and what might work for next year’s. Be selective and choose the illustrations, stories, and visuals that resonate most deeply with the angle you choose for this year.
Bring colleagues and other staff in on your plans for each service as well as plans for your individual sermons. Give them an opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback, and contribute to the process. When you bring in others to collaborate, you get what the group has to offer versus being limited to your individual knowledge and experience. Be willing to break the rules of past Christmases in order to come up with what’s right for this Christmas.
As you arrive at your final plans for the series, you will very rarely be too traditional for your audience. Nostalgia is VERY powerful and the more you can lean into Nostalgia the more memorable your sermon will be.
*A quick word about nostalgia. Why do you think Netflix brought back Full House for multiple seasons of Fuller House? Nostalgia. There may be some new viewers, but the show is largely made for those who watched the show every Friday night as a part of T.G.I.F. on ABC in the 90s. Netflix is putting millions of dollars behind a nostalgia backed concept – we can do well to follow their example in this area.
The more you can lean into Nostalgia people have for Christmas, the more memorable your sermon will be.
Allow the story of Christ to shine through each sermon. Invite people into a new reality for a story that may lack meaning or significance in their lives. Look for ways to help listeners see themselves in the story and the role God had in mind for them alongside the role He had laid aside for Jesus.
Most of all, allow the Advent story to have new and significant meaning in your life. What does God want to show you this year through the birth story? What has transpired in your life since Christmas last year that God would use to grow your relationship with Him? The story is timeless for your sermon, timeless for your audience, and it is timeless in terms of what it can teach you.
The tradition of Advent is a gift for every believer – it just so happens that you get to teach on it. Privately celebrate the arrival of the Savior and practice disciplines that help you anticipate His second coming. As the Lord softens your heart, He will have a better block of clay as He molds your sermons, your series, and the hearts of all those who listen.