“How do we compete with that?”
Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking this as you watch the onslaught of TV commercials and marketing that are ramping us up to Christmas. Every year the buildup to Christmas starts earlier and gets louder—at least when it comes to the commercial aspects of Christmas.
As a result, many people in our churches often end up in one of two unfortunate places:
- Some end up consumed by the consumerism of Christmas, functionally forgetting what it’s really all about.
- Others end up burned out by the time Christmas arrives, truly thankful that it’s over.
We crave something better for our people’s experience of the Christmas season (if we’re honest, we want it for us pastors too). We long for Christmas to be a spiritually refreshing time where Christians and non-Christians are moved by the truth that God came near.
Make no mistake: it’s really, really difficult to compete with the marketing of multi-billion dollar companies for the attention of our people at Christmas.
We’ll probably always be fighting an uphill battle to keep our eyes on Jesus during Christmas…
… but there is a strategy that the church has deployed for centuries and it might make a powerful difference – Advent.
Advent has a beautiful and rich history that is worth reflecting on and even teaching to our people. In a way that is similar to Lent, the four-week Advent season helps prepare our hearts to receive the gift of Jesus during Christmas.
Preaching an Advent sermon series is a wonderful starting point (here’s everything you’d need to know to pull it off), but what if you could inspire and resource your people to take it a step further and celebrate Advent at home?
The good news is that your people are already primed for a new Advent tradition, and it’s easier than you think to inspire and resource them for it.
Your People Want Traditions at Christmas
The Christmas season is filled with traditions that people love. Think about all the traditions your people are already celebrating:
- Watching our favorite Christmas movies. Whether we’re in the mood for something sentimental (It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street), comical (Home Alone, Elf, Christmas Vacation), or romantic (endless Hallmark movies), we build traditions around these classics.
- Listening to Christmas music. No other season of the year has its own genre of music, and more artists make Christmas albums because we love them.
- Baking cookies. Whether for gifts or just personal enjoyment, many families bake cookies at Christmas time filling their homes with the smells and tastes of Christmas.
- Attending Christmas performances. Some families mark the Christmas season by seeing certain plays, ballets, musical concerts, or light shows.
- Hosting or attending parties. Many of us will attend an ugly sweater party, a white elephant gift party (aka Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa), or some other gathering with family and friends.
If there was ever a time to help people build a new tradition, it’s the Advent season because they’re already primed for traditions.
This is especially true for Christian parents, who desperately want to provide faith-filled traditions for their kids in addition to all the other ways they celebrate.
An Ancient Tradition to Build Anticipation
Advent is about building anticipation. In fact, the word Advent simply means “coming”
The name derives from the Latin word “Adventus” which is translated from the Greek word “parousia” – which means “coming.” (here’s a thorough history of Advent)
Advent looks back to the first coming of Christ as a baby and looks forward to the Second Coming of Jesus.
One helpful way to think about Advent is to ask, “If I knew Jesus was going to return on December 25th, how would I prepare my heart?”
We all know how to build anticipation for Christmas traditions or gifts. With just a little help, we can use some of that tradition-rich, anticipation-creating energy to focus our hearts—and the hearts of our kids—on Jesus.
INSPIRE Your People with Advent on Sunday
Sundays provide the most obvious rallying point to inspire your people to anticipate Jesus through Advent.
Advent Sermon Series
Many churches leverage an Advent sermon series to help their people focus on Jesus. Preaching an Advent sermon series is easier than you might think for a few reasons:
- It’s only four weeks — this isn’t a five year series through Romans.
- It’s extremely flexible — you can approach it textually (going through passages), thematically (leveraging the major themes of hope, peace, joy, and love), or theologically (reflecting on the significance of Christ’s coming).
- It’s focused on Jesus — that’s always easier to preach, isn’t it?
An Advent sermon series isn’t just good for those who are already churched.
Consider this: in an increasingly unchurched and biblically illiterate world, there are actually a lot of people who don’t really know what Christmas is all about.
An Advent sermon series will not only introduce unchurched people to Jesus’ origin story, but will also remind Christ-followers about what’s truly important during this time of year.
If you want more help with crafting an Advent sermon series, be sure to check out this complete guide as well as these 10 great Advent series examples. Once you’ve crafted your series, be sure to also consider how to effectively promote your Advent series.
Advent Elements in Services
Even if you don’t do a full Advent sermon series there are a few simple ways to highlight Advent in your services.
Advent Candle Lighting & Scripture Reading
Get an Advent wreath and take a few minutes in each service to light one of the candles. Read a Scripture passage that corresponds with that week’s theme, or invite a person or family from your church to do the honors of lighting the candle. For example:
- Week 1: Hope
- Read Jeremiah 33:14-16.
- Light the candle and say, “We light this candle as a symbol of the hope we have in our righteous Branch, Jesus.”
- Week 2: Peace
- Read Luke 1:68-79.
- Light the candle and say, “We light this candle as a symbol of the peace we have through Jesus, the Child who came to forgive.”
- Week 3: Joy
- Read Isaiah 9:2-3.
- Light the candle and say, “We light this candle as a symbol of the joy we have through Jesus Christ, the great Light of the world.”
- Week 4: Love
- Read 1 John 3:1-4, 14, 16.
- Light the candle and say, “We light this candle as a symbol of the love that came to the world through Jesus Christ.”
As part of your in-service Advent commemoration, consider a brief time of prayer based around the themes of Advent. Go informal and off-the-cuff or use a pre-written prayer (examples).
You might also consider adopting different postures for each week of prayer, such as:
- Week 1: Hope — Encourage the congregation to extend their hands with their palms facing up in a posture of anticipation and hopefulness.
- Week 2: Peace — Encourage the congregation to sit and fold their hands in a posture of stillness and peace.
- Week 3: Joy — Encourage the congregation to lift their hands high in a posture of delight and joy.
- Week 4: Love — Encourage the congregation to hold hands in a posture of togetherness and love.
Some churches incorporate a testimony or an interview as part of their Advent celebration, finding individuals with stories that especially reflect the themes of hope, peace, joy, or love. These stories powerfully put flesh on what could become abstract concepts.
RESOURCE Your People for Advent at Home
As you inspire people with Sunday services, help them take it home by providing resources to celebrate at home. The Advent calendar will last at least 576 hours. Your weekly service will only account for anywhere between 4-6 hours of that calendar.
Providing the following kinds of resources can help you impact people during all the other hours of their Advent season.
Devotionals & Guides
A number of churches and ministries created helpful, free devotionals and guides that can be used personally or in families:
- Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
- Where the Light Shines Brightest by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
- Advent Daily Devotionals by Cru
- The Savior is Here by Cru
- The Advent Project by Biola University
- Advent Devotional by Sojourn Montrose
- Advent by The Village Church (weekly)
- Born a Child and Yet a King by Elliot Grudem (weekly)
- The YouVersion app has a host of Advent related reading plans
The Bible Project does beautiful and biblically faithful animated videos to help truth come alive. They have word study videos on the four major themes of Advent.
Family activities not only engage kids, but usually the adults learn a thing or two as well. Some ideas:
- Leslie Ann Jones has a beautiful Family Advent Guide, as does The Village Church.
- DIY Advent calendars are a fun way to engage kids and build anticipation in highly visual ways. Resources abound — go here or here to get started.
- Encourage families to buy or make their own Advent wreath and go through a weekly Advent family worship moment on their own. Here’s a very helpful guide.
- The Jesus Storybook Bible is one of the best resources for families, and a corresponding Advent guide is available each year.
- Ann Voskamp’s award winning book for families, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas, uses the idea of the Jesse Tree to give families Bible readings and activities that correspond.
- Share these ideas or this podcast on how to engage young children with Advent.
- Share these 6 Ways to Keep Advent Simple — it will be especially helpful for frazzled families.
- Share these 24 Ready-Made Family Devotions that will put the focus back on Christ this Christmas
People are already enjoying Christmas music during this season. Consider providing resources that help your people understand some of the songs they’re singing. Here’s a wonderful list of 8 Advent hymns and their corresponding Bible passages.
In addition to these classic hymns, a number of talented artists have created musical resources that focus specifically on Advent:
- Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots (Spotify | Apple)
- Advent Songs by Sojourn Music (Spotify | Apple)
- Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson (Spotify | Apple)
- The Light Came Down by Josh Garrels (Spotify | Apple)
Daily Video Devotional
Why not utilize Facebook Live, Instagram TV, YouTube, or another streaming service and have a pastor, staff member, or volunteer do a daily 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 leaders better.
Email or Text Advent Encouragement
There are likely plenty of people in your congregation who aren’t going to go out and dive into Advent resources, but they might be willing to engage if they knew it was from you and your church. Consider building a special email or text message list and sending out a daily Advent devotional.
Encourage Giving or Serving
Many people are looking to bless the community during the ramp-up to Christmas. This is not only good for those who are helped, but also good for those helping. Giving and serving helps reduce the consumerist instinct so prevalent in our culture during Christmas.
This is the instinct behind Advent Conspiracy, a movement started by a Portland church that has spread around the country based on these four commitments:
- Worship Fully — Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.
- Spend Less — Free up your resources to support things that truly matter.
- Give More — Give more intentionally and relationally.
- Love All — Radically love others like Jesus did.
Consider organizing a local serving project or a special Christmas offering that invites intentional love.
Final Thoughts on Advent at Home
The weeks leading up to Christmas are ripe to help your people prepare to experience Jesus this Christmas. They have a pre-existing desire for tradition, and the Christian church has a long-standing answer: Advent.
You may not be able to turn down the noise surrounding Christmas in the broader culture.
But with some thought, intentionality, and a relatively small investment of time and energy, you can lead your people to bring Advent home as they await the arrival of Jesus.