By Haley Scharf

Advent is a time to remember that we are a people of hope because we have a God who keeps his promises! Long ago he promised a Messiah, and his word was fulfilled when Jesus came the first time. Now we have a promise that Jesus will come back again to fully establish his kingdom and set things right, and we wait with hope because we know God is faithful and will fulfill that promise as well. I love Isaiah 25:9, which is a particularly fitting verse to meditate on during Advent: “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

So in Advent we are remembering Christ’s first coming, waiting for his second coming, and turning our hearts to him in hope. The problem is that, as a friend of mine says, our culture celebrates December as if it’s a monthlong tailgating party! In the church our celebrating happens during the 12 days, not during Advent, so we will have to do some countercultural thinking if we want to live out the spirit of Advent. (Let Us Keep the Feast is my favorite book for developing traditions around the liturgical seasons).

As we learn to live out the church year at home we can ask ourselves two questions: What should we cut out, and what new things should we take up? During Advent, we will especially want to step away from materialism and trying to do so much that we are exhausted by December 25 — and step toward traditions and practices that will bring us closer to Christ and his kingdom.

When it comes to creating traditions, I find it helpful to think about how to engage my senses. How will I know it is Advent by what I see and hear and eat? For me, music is one of the best ways to enter into each liturgical season, so years ago I went through my Christmas albums and made separate playlists in iTunes for Advent and Christmas. If you use Spotify you can find my Advent playlist there. Also on Spotify I have a Revelation playlist that I made last year; it would be great for Advent as well.

We can get some ideas about how to engage with food during Advent by thinking about Lent. Remembering that there are 12 days of feasting coming soon, we may choose to  make simpler meals or forgo dessert. Advent can even be a season of fasting, as it is for Orthodox Christians. My family waits to decorate a gingerbread house until the 12 Days of Christmas, and when we are given chocolate Advent calendars we save those for the 12 Days, too. Moving small celebratory practices from Advent to the 12 Days can be a great way to allow our celebration to fill the entire Christmas season. Intentionally celebrating the full Christmas season doesn’t mean we will act like it’s Christmas morning for a week and a half (that would be exhausting!), but we can find one small, special way to celebrate each of those days, whether it be with food, friends, an outing, or acts of service.

We probably all believe that we as Christians ought to do some significant countercultural thinking when it comes to gift-giving at Christmastime — indulging ourselves less and spending more money on those who are poor or sick or vulnerable. Even so, most of us will probably still choose to give gifts to our loved ones, and I have found that I have much more time and attention for spiritual practices during Advent if I get to my Christmas shopping done before Advent starts. Even if I can’t quite get everything checked off my list by the first Sunday of Advent, it really does help to get started early.  Doing Christmas shopping in November aligns nicely with the theme of gratitude that is on our minds around Thanksgiving: We can plan how to bless our family and friends as we give thanks for their presence in our lives.

This Advent, as we remember Christ’s incarnation and pray for his return, may we all find meaningful ways to wait with hope and rejoice in his salvation!