Advent: A season of blessings

November 24th, 2015

Yuletide rush

For many people, the Christmas season has already begun. This Friday is so-called Black Friday, when stores kick off their official Christmas sales and many people flock to malls, downtowns and shopping centers festooned with Yuletide decorations. Next week is Cyber Monday, when online retailers will have sales of their own and some online shoppers will be busy looking for deals. Television Christmas specials, school Christmas concerts, work-related Christmas parties and more Christmas events fill calendars for the next several weeks.

Yet in the midst of the rush, Advent beckons us to remember the blessings of this often overlooked season. While the blessings of Advent are numerous, this article will focus on five: patience, perspective, hope, service and opportunity.


Advent is a season of waiting. We gradually light the candles of the Advent wreath, adding a new candle each week until all four candles are lit over the course of four weeks. If your family has an Advent calendar, you mark the slow, daily progress of the season. These and other Advent symbols arrive in their fullness over time. All this symbolic waiting has roots in the theological significance of Advent.

In Advent, we remember Jesus’ first coming as a baby born in Bethlehem. If your congregation follows the lectionary, you’ll notice that the Old Testament lessons during worship feature prophets who proclaimed that God would fulfill the promise: the coming of the Prince of Peace, the righteous branch of David’s line, the Messiah. Later in the season, the Gospel lessons focus on John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and an angelic visitor telling Mary and Joseph of Jesus’ coming.

At this time, we also remember that Jesus promised to come again in the future. We’re reminded of that promise in the lectionary passages in the early weeks of Advent. We live in this time of waiting, when we’re between the inauguration of the kingdom of God and its culmination, between the already of Jesus’ first coming and the not yet of his return. During Advent, we also remember we don’t know exactly how long the wait will be. We’ve been waiting for the Kingdom to come in its fullness for nearly 2,000 years; the wait may be over soon — or it may be thousands of years from now.

The blessing of Advent patience teaches us to let go of anxiety. We can’t make Jesus’ return come any sooner. What we can do is live by the values of the Kingdom in the here and now.


We can easily get caught up in the jolly frenzy of the world around us. We can be seduced into believing we have to make this the best Christmas ever for ourselves and our loved ones. We may get caught up in the quest to buy the perfect gift or in the desire to receive the thing we most crave. We may become outraged over people who say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or threaten to boycott companies we believe aren’t focusing enough on Christmas, be it in their decorations, their advertisements, or their coffee cups.

Advent is a reminder of what’s really important. We are to live by the values of the Kingdom. In what will be the Old Testament lesson the first Sunday of Advent next year, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of the mountain of the Lord’s house becoming the highest of the mountains. In that time, we’ll pray to learn God’s ways, to walk in God’s paths. We’ll beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, turning implements of war into tools for caring for the earth and nurturing life. Nations will no longer wage war. While we wait for that promised future to come in fullness, we’ll walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:1-5).

Advent reminds us of the Christian perspective that walking that path, loving God and loving our neighbor, is where our focus should be.


We’re entering into the darkest time of the year, with the sun gradually setting earlier and rising later each day until the winter equinox next month. All the world’s focus on spending time with family and friends during this season can be depressing for those who are alone. Newspapers and news broadcasts are often filled with bad news around the world and closer to home. All these factors and more can lead us to believe that things are hopeless.

Yet during Advent, we remember the hope we have in God. We remember the prophets who lived in much more challenging times than ours, times when their nations were on the brink of extinction, when many wondered if God still loved them. Yet Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi, Zephaniah, Micah, and others remind us that nothing is impossible with God. The light of God continues to shine, even in the deepest darkness. And as a people of hope, our mission is to reflect that light so others can hope.


This time of year provides numerous opportunities to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ with our actions. Many nonprofit organizations have seasonal service projects that individuals and church groups can join. Or you or your group can plan a short-term project. Some ideas:

  • Go caroling at a hospital or a retirement community. Be sure to ask for permission in advance.
  • Host a party for family, friends, or neighbors, and ask each guest to bring a nonperishable food item for the local food pantry. Contact the pantry to discover their food needs and then pass them on to guests. 
  • Bake cookies and give them to teachers and staff at a local school or daycare center. Check with an agency that works with people who are homeless to learn about how you can help during this season. You may find your service becomes the start of an ongoing commitment. 


The end of the year provides opportunity to share God’s love with others. While the Christmas frenzy surrounding us can be overwhelming, it can also open doors. Even a person who rarely thinks about attending worship, engaging in Bible study, or praying understands that this season is at heart a celebration of God’s love. The weeks of Advent can provide the perfect opportunity for you to extend the blessings of the season to other people.

You may find that your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family members who aren’t part of a church family may be open to an invitation to join you for worship, either on a Sunday morning during Advent or on Christmas Eve. You could organize a caroling outing as an opportunity to invite neighbors to your church’s seasonal events. To prepare for caroling, make song sheets with the lyrics for several well-known carols as well as information about your church’s events to offer to those who hear you carol. I have organized caroling outings in neighborhoods, a downtown shopping district, and a mall (though be sure to ask for permission when caroling on private property like a mall).

Advent offers many blessings. When we worship during this season, sing Advent hymns, read the lectionary texts, light the candles of the Advent wreath, slowly reveal the days of the Advent calendar, serve others, and take the opportunity to share God’s good news, we receive the blessings of Advent and offer those blessings to others.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

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