Spiritual formation ideas for the Advent season.
By Jillian Morrison, Associate Pastor, Glendora, CA
Out of all the Christmas songs I loved to listen to growing up, there was one whose melody and lyrics haunted me: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I wondered how this somber Christmas song had its place amongst the many “merry and bright” ones.
Traditionally, Christmas carols were not to be sung until Christmas Day, since “Advent is not a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the manger but a time to long for the coming of the Savior.”
Ultimately, the meaning of Advent has its origins in waiting and longing, and for many people, the Advent season is already filled with waiting and longing. However, this yearning is typically for Christmas Day to arrive so we can finally get what was on our Christmas wish list. But do we long for God to break in on our lives and have his way in us? Advent forces us to ask ourselves: What do I really long for?
As someone who didn’t grow up observing Lent (Easter Preparation) or Advent, I can understand how uncomfortable these seasons can make us feel if we’re not accustomed to them. Our culture of pleasure-seeking and instant gratification has taught us to only yearn for the things in life that make us feel “good,” and to focus on the temporary instead of the eternal.
We’re tempted to skip the slow journey of Easter Preparation (Lent) and get straight to the Resurrection without going through the painstaking process of reflection, repentance and renewal as we enter 40 days of focusing on our personal relationship with Jesus. We’re tempted to skip the waiting in Advent and get straight to Christmas without meditating on the deep yearning of Christ in our souls.
We need to be honest with the fact that for many believers, we are comfortable living with God at a distance. We get so accustomed to thinking we can do things on our own, that we can become indifferent to the presence and necessity of God in our lives. Do we truly want God to interrupt our lives with renewing and restoring power? And do we expect God to do so?
There are three Advents, or three “comings,” of Christ to remember during this time: The Advent of Christ in Bethlehem, the Advent of Christ in his second coming, and the Advent of Christ in our own lives.
The spirituality of Advent calls us to put our lives in the perspective of Christ’s triumphant arrival to our world that is in desperate need of a Savior. This means we must learn to yearn for and meditate on Christ’s second coming as well as the Advent of Christ in every aspect of our lives.
Meditating on the second coming of Christ reminds us that death and evil do not have the final word. In yearning for this victorious promise, we live in hopeful expectation that God will rid the world of all evil and establish his rule in the new heavens and earth.
Advent is a time of longing for redemption. What bad habits, jealousy, envy, undesirable relationships or vices do we need to be redeemed from? What may be blocking us from living in the Holy Spirit’s peace, joy, or generosity?
Robert E. Webber, author of Ancient-Future Time, challenges us to consider the basics of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ:
Do I really believe in Christ? Have I put my hope and trust in him? Do I see the future through the eyes of the one who came to redeem the world from the power of evil? Is there a longing within me for him to be formed within, to take up residence in my personal life, in my home, and in my vocation? These are not easy questions to answer. … We must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life.
Remember that you were created to love and be loved by the Lord Jesus, your Creator and your King. Do not be afraid to trust God with your life and lean into your deep, inherent longing for Christ. This Advent, may these ancient lyrics awaken your hearts to Christ our Savior, who is with us and for us: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Here are some spiritual practices to consider during Advent:
- Simplicity – Practice the great art of letting go. Reorganize your priorities so that they flow from loving and serving God above all else. Root your identity in God’s love, not wealth and possessions.
- Slowing – Choose to be intentional about slowing down during one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. Ask God to help you live in the present moment and fight the addiction to busyness and constant activity. Realize that life only happens in the now.
- Solitude – Prioritize time and space to be alone with God without distractions. In a season when plans are made to reunite with loved ones, solitude may seem counterintuitive. However, even brief moments of solitude may be exactly what we need to recenter ourselves in God’s presence and free ourselves from the expectations of other people. Solitude also provides valuable space to practice other spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, or journaling.
Be blessed, as you bless God with your time and attention this Advent season!
 Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 51.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 52-53.
 Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 74.