Introduction

Why Advent?

Some of those that know me might be quite surprised that I would be writing a book about how to prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas. After all, I have been consistently called a ‘Scrooge’ by my adoring wife (who loves to celebrate every holiday a little too early) for not wanting to watch Christmas movies and put up our decorations in mid-October. However, I consistently hope that my disdain for doing so does not come across to friends and family as a rejection of Christmas. I love Christmas and all that it brings, but I do think we try to jump into it far too early. 

Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend in which he jokingly sent me a photo which had a calendar of November all marked up. Essentially the calendar had claimed all of November for Christmas, except for three days unenthusiastically given to Thanksgiving. I immediately thought, “What about Advent?” It was then that I discovered that far too often we lump the season of Advent into a form of ‘pre-Christmas’ instead of recognizing its importance in preparing us for this very special holiday.

With a sincere heart, I contend that we cannot have Christmas without Advent, and any attempt to do so entirely misses the point. Advent is more than just a ‘pre-Christmas,’ it is a time in which we anxiously, painfully wait for our much needed Messiah. All of our hopes, fears, and longings are the fulfillment that we find in Christmas, which is perhaps why we love it so much, but it all means nothing without also recognizing those hopes, fears, and longings themselves. My hope and my prayer is that this resource might help you and your family celebrate this very important season in preparation for the arrival of our Savior. 

Why The Table?

I have long been enamored with the centrality of the table in Jewish culture. The table is the setting in which all of their greatest holidays  are celebrated: Passover, Rosh Hassanah, Yom Kippurr, you name it and there is probably a feast to celebrate it! However, these feasts are more than just familial gatherings. These feasts are where the Jewish story is told, the story of their rescue from Egypt, the giving of the law, and the creation of life itself! The table isn’t reserved for just holidays, either! In fact, most Jewish families gather around the table every week to welcome shabbat (Sabbath). 

The question lingers, however, why would they choose the table? Why not just share these stories in lecture halls and worship spaces? Well, this is because the table is where one of our most intimate actions as a human occurs. We eat both for survival and for pleasure, in fact, to “taste” in Greek also means to “enjoy.” The things which keep us safe and the things which bring us pleasure are often the things that we hold most intimately. In eating together, we experience both of those things, and open ourselves to one another and our collective story.

Whenever the family is gathered, one member of the family  will lead in a teaching about the particular reason in which the family is gathered. On shabbat they teach about rest, on the Passover they teach about the exodus from Egypt, and so on. Each of these teachings is called a haggadah (“telling”), and there are many unique versions of the haggadah. In fact, many familial leaders will develop their own haggadah in a manner of truly experiencing the story in a personal fashion. One of the central hopes of this book is that, through the practices of retelling the Advent story, we might experience the story in this personal manner as we prepare for Christmas together at the table.

How To Use This Resource

This resource is designed to be used for a weekly meal around the family table as a means of retelling the story of Advent. The first step in beginning this, or any new practice, is dedicating some time each week towards it. My family celebrates a weekly shabbat meal on Friday evenings, and so we use this resource at that time. However, maybe Sunday afternoons or evenings, or another time may work better for you. It doesn’t matter when you choose to have this meal, just that you set aside some time for it on a weekly basis. 

Each week follows a similar pattern which includes prayers, candle blessings, discussion, and song. You are free to use any of the prayers written in this book, or write your own. You may choose to use the candle blessings by utilizing an Advent wreath (find tips on how to create your own in the appendix of this book), or not at all. You can also use the songs provided, choose your own songs, or choose not to sing at all. In fact, I encourage you to make this practice your own. However, the most important element in this practice is the dedicated time of discussion. The format used in this resource is designed to help the person leading your family dinner to develop their own haggadah (“telling”) of each portion of the Advent story. You may choose to have the same leader every week, or to alternate the responsibility across each week. The choice is yours! 

Finally, although it is not referenced in each week’s guide, you may also choose to use a nativity scene to help in your retelling of the stories. My suggestion is that you place new pieces to your nativity scene throughout Advent. For tips on hope to best place out your nativity scene throughout the season, please check the appendix of this book. Let’s get started!

Week One

Hope

Opening Prayer

Open with the following, or your own prayer:

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day, We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!’

Lighting of Candles

This week, we light the first candle on our Advent Wreath. This is the candle of ‘hope.’

When doing so, you may say this or another prayer:

“Lord God, for the hope that we have in Your Son, Jesus, light of the world, we give You thanks.”

Sharing The Story

As you begin sharing the meal together, set the precedent for the conversation by having someone share about the need for hope. It is always best to use your own words accompanied by the words of Scripture, but as you prepare for this time, here are some things to consider:

God’s people had been hoping for and expecting a king for a long time. The Lord had given them a promise through the prophet Isaiah long before Jesus was born: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah also foretold that the Messiah—the One who would save God’s people—would be a relative of a man named Jesse, the father of King David (Isaiah 11). 

As we prepare for the arrival of Jesus (‘Immanuel’), we lean into this hopeful desire for salvation; the hope that one day all will be set right.

Possible Scriptures to Share:

Gen. 3:8-15; Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 61:1-2; Mark 1:1-3

Use the space below to write down your own thoughts about the importance of our hope found in Jesus:

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Consider the following questions to guide your discussions during the meal:

  • Where do we need hope in our lives today?
  • What does it look like to believe God’s promises and hope in him today?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meal with the following prayer, or a prayer of your own:

Merciful God, always with us, always coming: We confess we do not know how to prepare for your Advent. We have forgotten how to hope in miracles; we have ignored the promise of your kingdom; we get distracted by all the busyness of this season. Forgive us, God. Grant us the simple wonder of the shepherds, the intelligent courage of the Magi, and the patient faith of Mary and Joseph, that we may journey with them to Bethlehem and find the good news of a child born for us. Now, in the quiet of our hearts, we ask you to make us ready for His coming. Amen.

Song

Following the meal, you may choose to sing a song together each week.

This week, we suggest the following hymn:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel 

And ransom captive Israel 

That mourns in lonely exile here 

Until the Son of God appears. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 

shall come to thee, O Israel. 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free 

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny 

From depths of Hell Thy people save 

And give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 

shall come to thee, O Israel. 

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer 

Our spirits by Thine advent here 

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night 

And death’s dark shadows put to flight. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 

shall come to thee, O Israel. 

Week Two

Peace

Opening Prayer

Open with the following, or your own prayer:

Lord, in a season when every heart should be happy and light, many of us are struggling with the heaviness of life—burdens that steal the joy right out of our stockings. Tragedy arrives as innocent victims suffer, and an inner voice whispers, “Be afraid!” We need your peace, Jesus. We confess that our hearts are too often filled with wonder of a different kind: wondering when the bills will be paid, when the terror will stop, when rest will come. Will it ever? Is the message still true? In a world where worry, not peace, prevails, stir up that good news again.

Lighting of Candles

This week, we light the second candle,  the candle of ‘peace’ on our Advent Wreath. 

When doing so, you may say this or another prayer:

“Lord God, we give you thanks for the peace which passes all understanding, given to us through the outpouring of your Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Sharing The Story

As you begin sharing the meal together, set the precedent for the conversation by having someone share about our need for peace. It is always best to use your own words accompanied by Scripture, but as you prepare for this time, here are some things to consider:

Throughout the Bible, we are instructed, ‘Do not be afraid,’ hundreds of times. In Luke 2:8-21, a group of shepherds were told this exact same thing as they were visited by an angel. This phrase was then followed by ‘I bring you great news of joy for all people.’ When we look around, we don’t always see the joy around us, do we? This lack of joy then lends itself to a lack of peace. The world is a tumultuous place; there is strife and struggle everywhere—between friends and enemies alike. We need someone to bring peace to our hearts, minds, lives, and world. One night long ago, some unsuspecting shepherds were the first to hear the great news of God bringing exactly what we need.

Possible Scriptures to Share:

Micah 5:2-4; Matthew 2:1-10; Luke 2:8-21; Matthew 5:9

Use the space below to write down your own thoughts about the importance of our peace promised to us in Jesus:

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Consider the following questions to guide your discussions during the meal:

  • Where in your life do you struggle? What part of your life needs peace?
  • Is there tension, anger, or bitterness between you and anyone? How should Jesus’ coming to bring peace change your situation? 
  • How can you be someone who brings the peace of Christ to the places you go and the people you meet this week?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meal with the following prayer, or a prayer of your own:

God of Peace, the one brought peace to the chaotic waters at the beginning of creation and the one who calmed the raging storm. Provide us an inner stillness and security in Your love–a stillness which can withstand the chaos and turmoil raging both inside and outside us–through a growing knowledge of God’s work for us in Christ Jesus. We pray that your peace would spread throughout our city, that you would restore families, and bring reconciliation amongst all people. Finally, we ask that you would enable us to continually seek peace with You, O God, by confessing our sin, repenting, and receiving Jesus anew each day.

Song

Following the meal, you may choose to sing a song together each week.

This week, we suggest the following hymn:

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night, 

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and child. 

Holy infant so tender and mild, 

Sleep in heavenly peace. 

Sleep in heavenly peace. 

Silent night, holy night, 

Son of God, love’s pure light 

Radiant beams from thy holy face, 

With the dawn of redeeming grace, 

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. 

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. 

Week Three

Joy

Opening Prayer

Open with the following, or your own prayer:

Heavenly Father, Thank You for the joy that entered the world when Jesus was born. Thank you for becoming God with us. Sometimes it’s difficult to live joyfully, especially in difficult or busy seasons. Please purify our hearts this week and remind us that You’re in control. Help us to consider it joy when we experience trials of any kind because we know You’re creating something beautiful and eternal. As we fix our eyes and hearts on You, fill our souls with renewed strength, courage, and hope.

Lord, you are always worthy of being praised––and we want to worship You! Amen.

Lighting of Candles

This week, we light the third candle,  the candle of ‘joy’ on our Advent Wreath. 

When doing so, you may say this or another prayer:

“Lord God, we rejoice in every good thing You have made, and in every blessed gift You have so graciously given. Amen.”

Sharing The Story

As you begin sharing the meal together, set the precedent for the conversation by having someone share about our need for joy. It is always best to use your own words accompanied by Scripture, but as you prepare for this time, here are some things to consider:

What brings you the most joy in your life? What is it that brings a smile to your face whenever you think about it? God sending His Son Jesus was and is incredible news of great joy. The King of the universe coming to earth was a big deal, and it brought joy to many people who saw what God was doing.

When the world was lost and without hope, God sent Jesus to find us and bring us joy! Everything He does is for His glory and our joy. The wise men rejoiced when the star led them to where Jesus was. Knowing who He was, they brought gifts to Him and worshipped Him. 

Possible Scriptures to Share:

Romans 15:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Philippians 3:1-3; John 10:10

Use the space below to write down your own thoughts about the importance of our joy being found in Jesus:

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Consider the following questions to guide your discussions during the meal:

  • How does Jesus bring you joy?
  • What gift can you give Him this week as a way of worshipping Him?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meal with the following prayer, or a prayer of your own:

Emmanuel, who came that we might live life more abundantly: Make our church family a joyful community in the face of hardships, pain, doubt, and celebrations; that in the midst of life circumstances, we would have joy in the nearness of God made possible by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Allow our joy to be expressed in words and deeds of gratitude, celebration, and giving. And may all gifts lead us to joy in the Giver rather than the gifts themselves, so that our joy might be constantly turned into everlasting praise. 

Song

Following the meal, you may choose to sing a song together each week.

This week, we suggest the following hymn:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! The herald angels sing 

Glory to the newborn King! 

Peace on earth and mercy mild, 

God and sinners reconciled! 

Joyful, all ye nations, rise, 

Join the triumph of the skies; 

With the angelic host proclaim 

Christ is born in Bethlehem! 

Hark! The herald angels sing 

Glory to the newborn King!

Week Four

Love

Opening Prayer

Open with the following, or your own prayer:

Lord God, we adore you because you have come to us in the past. You have spoken to us in the Law of Israel. You have challenged us in the words of the prophets. You have shown us in Jesus what you are really like. We adore you because you still come to us now. You come to us through other people and their love and concern for us. You come to us through men and women who need our help. You come to us as we worship you with your people. We adore you because you will come to us at the end. You will be with us at the hour of death. You will still reign supreme when all human institutions fail. You will still be God when our history has run its course. We welcome you, the God who comes. In the name of Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Lighting of Candles

This week, we light the fourth candle,  the candle of ‘love’ on our Advent Wreath. 

When doing so, you may say this or another prayer:

“Lord God, we rest in Your love, and walk in Your grace, to the glory of Your name. Amen.”

Sharing The Story

As you begin sharing the meal together, set the precedent for the conversation by having someone share about God’s love. It is always best to use your own words accompanied by Scripture, but as you prepare for this time, here are some things to consider:

God’s children had been disobedient. They had gone against what He wanted for them, and so they were lost and lonely. As we saw the first week, though, there is always hope because God is always faithful. Not only is God faithful, He also loves. He is so loving that He actually is love (1 John 4:8). God’s people had disobeyed and had run away from Him, but in love, God sent His Son to rescue them.

Possible Scriptures to Share:

Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:30-33; John 3:16-21; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8; 1 John 4:18-19

Use the space below to write down your own thoughts about God’s love as shown in Jesus:

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Consider the following questions to guide your discussions during the meal:

  • What do you do for those you love?
  • How do you respond when someone is unloving towards you?
  • How can we live this week to celebrate and honor what God has done for us in Jesus?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meal with the following prayer, or a prayer of your own:

Heavenly Father, we pray that we would be emptied of self-love by receiving God’s passionate love for us in Christ, and that this love would banish feelings of unworthiness, shame, self-hatred, and trying to earn love. Help us to love one another in the same way that you have loved us and have shown us what it means to truly love our neighbors. Help us to love you with our entire being: our intellect, our emotions, our bodies, our times, our relationships, and our talents. We ask this in the name of our Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Song

Following the meal, you may choose to sing a song together each week.

This week, we suggest the following hymn:

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, 

Come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem. 

Come and behold Him, born the King of angels; 

O come, let us adore Him, 

O come, let us adore Him, 

O come, let us adore Him, 

Christ the Lord. 

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation; 

Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above! 

Glory to God, all glory in the highest; 

O come, let us adore Him, 

O come, let us adore Him, 

O come, let us adore Him, 

Christ the Lord. 

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger, 

We would embrace Thee, with love and awe; 

Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly? 

O come, let us adore Him, 

O come, let us adore Him, 

O come, let us adore Him, 

Christ the Lord.

Christmas Day

The Lord Has Come!

Opening Prayer

Open with the following, or your own prayer:

Father God, we thank You and praise You today for the miracle of Your Son’s birth. Thank You for giving us the assurance that because You came to us in the form of a human, we who believe in Jesus can know with absolute certainty that we’ll spend eternity with You. Thank You for loving the whole world enough to send the greatest gift, Your Son, so that we might truly have a very merry Christmas. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Lighting of Candles

On Christmas, we light the Christ candle. 

When doing so, you may say this or another prayer:

“Emmanuel, who brings hope, peace, joy, and love; We welcome you in our presence. Amen.”

Sharing The Story

As you begin sharing the meal together, set the precedent for the conversation by having someone share about how the birth of Christ brings together everything we have talked about throughout this season. It is always best to use your own words accompanied by Scripture, but as you prepare for this time, here are some things to consider:

Jesus came to rescue and redeem His people for God’s glory and for our joy! He is the light of the world, giving hope, peace, joy, and love to those who believe in Him.

Possible Scriptures to Share:

Luke 2:4-7; Galatians 4:4-5; John 1:1-17

Use the space below to write down your own thoughts about God’s love as shown in Jesus:

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Consider the following questions to guide your discussions during the meal:

  • How has God given you hope, peace, joy, and love?
  • What gifts has God given you through Jesus?
  • How can you be someone who God uses to bring those gifts to others?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meal with the following prayer, or a prayer of your own:

Father, Your Son is an incredible gift of hope, peace, joy, and love. We do not deserve any of it, but you give freely. Thank you for your mercy and the glorious gift of your grace. May we live in a way that celebrates your goodness and testifies of your love.

Song

Following the meal, you may choose to sing a song together each week.

This week, we suggest the following hymn:

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! 

Let earth receive her King; 

Let every heart prepare Him room, 

And heaven and nature sing, 

And heaven and nature sing, 

And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing. 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns! 

Let men their songs employ; 

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains 

Repeat the sounding joy, 

Repeat the sounding joy, 

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. 

He rules the world with truth and grace, 

And makes the nations prove 

The glories of His righteousness, 

And wonders of His love, 

And wonders of His love, 

And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Appendix A

How To Make An Advent Wreath

Simple Method

While you can always purchase a ready made Advent Wreath, it is just as much fun to create your own! For the simplest method, you’re going to need a pre-made wreath, 4 floral candle holders, 4 advent candles (three purple, one pink), and whatever decorations you would like to spice up your wreath (pinecones, bells, and bows make excellent decoration, but feel free to be creative!).

To start, you simply lay the wreath on the table and push your floral candle holders into place equally spaced apart from one another. From there, place your advent candles into the holders. Finally, take whatever decorations you’ve gathered and either glue them on to your wreath or attach them using floral sticks or wire. 

Advanced Method

If you’re feeling a bit more crafty, you can actually create the wreath base on your own! In addition to the materials mentioned in the above method, you would need a foam wreath form and greenery. 

First, you simply take your foam wreath form and wrap your greenery around it, fixing the greens to the styrofoam with floral wire or glue. After this simple step, you simply follow the instructions from the simple method above to create your own advent wreath. This is a fun craft to do together as a family in order to prepare for the Advent season.

Lighting the Candles

While any candles can work in your Advent Wreath, traditional Advent candles typically consist of three purple, one pink, and one white candle. Each color has a particular meaning which can further enhance your understanding of the season. 

The color purple has dual meaning within the church, and so it is with Advent. On one hand, the color purple represents repentance and fasting (the reason why it is also typically used throughout Lent). On the other hand, the color purple represents royalty. For this reason, the color purple is used in the first two of weeks of Advent, which are meant as a time of hopeful repentance as we earnestly wait for a Savior, and the final week of Advent, when the King of Kings,  Jesus, is to be born. 

The color pink is symbolic of joy. It is used in the third week as a distinctive marking of the shifting of the Advent season from a period of repentance, waiting for a Savior, to joy in acknowledgment that the Savior is on the way. 

Finally, the white candle, also known as ‘the Christ candle’ is reserved for Christmas day. The color white represents purity, light, and regeneration. It is also commonly used as a color of victory. On Christmas day or sinless, spotless, pure Savior is born. Not all families use the Christ candle, so it is completely your choice if you choose to include it, but it does serve as a good reminder on Christmas day in the midst of celebrations which can often bring us off task.

Appendix B

Setting Out the Nativity Scene

It is fairly common for families who use a nativity scene to refrain from placing baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas Eve, but did you know that you can actually put the nativity scene together piece by piece as you go traveling throughout the story during Advent?

During the first week of Advent, I encourage you to begin by placing the animals in the stable. It is important to remember where this story begins, a place where animals slept. Yet, God uses the most unlikely of places to bring about one of the greatest events in human history. Since this is the week of hope, we can rejoice in the fact that God will use our everyday coming-and-going as a means of becoming present with His world in the very same way that he used an empty stable. 

During the second week of Advent, we can now place the inn-keeper with the animals. The stable is a place where the innkeeper kept his animals. It was a peaceful place, where the animals came to rest for the day. Little did they know that soon God would change the world in this very place. 

In the third week, we can put the shepherds in their place. While they weren’t quite at the stable yet, the shepherds were hearing news of great joy that would take place in Bethlehem. In response to such news, they began making their way to the birthplace of Jesus. 

In the fourth and final week of Advent, we can finally put Mary and Joseph in their places, awaiting the birth of their newborn child. Finally, on Christmas or Christmas Eve, you may finally place Jesus in the manger. 

Now some of you may be wondering, “Well, what about the wise men?” Well, in the Christmas story, the wise men don’t actually show up until much, much later. And so, I actually encourage you to keep your nativity up and place the wise men in their place the week following Christmas.

Appendix C

But What About the Christmas Tree?

Ah, the Christmas Tree! The pride and joy of many of our Christmas celebrations. Much of our discussion throughout this book has been dedicated to things which sometimes seem out of place in modern Christmas celebrations. So, can anything be done to bring a spiritual element to our decorating of the Christmas Tree? Absolutely! In fact, Traci Smith in her book Faithful Families shares an excellent practice which helps us to do just that! Check out this helpful practice:

How To

  1. Before the tree is decorated, gather everyone together and read the following blessing:

God who created the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, the stars in the sky, and the trees in the ground, bless this tree as we decorate it and make it a joyful symbol in our home. May its branches remind us of the shade and shelter you provide for us and for many creatures. May its trunk reminds us of your strength. May its lights bring us peace. May we remember your gift to us this season, the gift of the baby Jesus. Amen. 

  1. Optional (see note below)–After decorating the tree, set up a creche or manger scene below the tree.

Note

In the United States, there seems to be a sharp division between secular Christmas traditions (the tree, the stocking, Santa) and Christian traditions (the manger scene, attending church, singing Christmas carols). As the tree is the focal point in many homes during Christmas, blessing the tree and setting up a manger scene under the tree (as opposed to gifts) can highlight the Christian significance of the day, something culture has lost sight of.

For more excellent ways to celebrate a wide variety of holidays and milestones, check out Traci’s book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home.

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