See also: Resources for Celebrating Advent as a Church.
Advent, which means “Coming,” is the first season of the Church Year, and always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming at Christmas, and for his Second Coming “to judge the living and the dead.” Advent is a time of solemn, joyful, and reflective prayer, lighting candles, and meditating on Scripture in preparation for Christmas. We join ancient Israel in awaiting the Messiah and simultaneously look forward to Christ’s second coming/advent.
Devotional Outline for Families
During Advent, follow or adapt this outline each evening as a family.
- Dim the lights and light the appropriate candle(s) in your Advent wreath (see below).
- Sing a verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” or another Advent hymn. (If you have young children, singing the same hymn every night is a great way to teach it to them.)
- Open a door in your Advent calendar (see below). You may include candy and a Bible verse for young children.
- Read an entry in your Advent devotional(s) (see below for recommendations). We read something for our little boy and then something for the whole family.
- Pray (some devotionals have prayers included).
- Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Gloria Patri (Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen).
Advent Calendar and Wreath
Buy an Advent wreath and light it as a family (see here for lighting instructions). E.g.,
Buy an Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas. Since it’s hard to find one that is distinctively Christian, we use a generic calendar and fill each door with candy and a folded-up Bible verse:
- Daily readings in the Revised Common Lectionary or Book of Common Prayer (“Table of Contents” → “Daily Office Lectionary” → “Advent”).
- For a special book study, see Tony Reinke’s Isaiah Christmas.
Jonathan Gibson, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: A Liturgy for Daily Worship from Advent to Epiphany (Crossway, 2023). A 40-day devotional with seasonal Scripture readings, hymns, prayers, and creeds, as well as time for meditation, petition, and confession.
Paul Wesley Chilcote, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Advent and Christmas with Charles Wesley (Morehouse Publishing, 2017).
- “The Promised One,” Christianity Today. Daily devotional readings from Christianity Today.
- “Prayers for Advent: A Free Reflection Guide,” Lexham Press.
Books for Children
Todd R. Hains, The King of Christmas: All God’s Children Search for Jesus (A FatCat Book) (Lexham Press, 2022).
Books on Advent and the Incarnation
Make it a tradition to read one book on the incarnation each year during Advent. E.g.,
- Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2018).
- Köstenberger and Stewart, The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation (Crossway, 2015).
- Athanasius, On the Incarnation. Use the translation by John Behr from SVS Press.
- Anselm, Cur Deus Homo.
- Ambrose of Milan, The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord.
- Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ.
- Graham Cole, The God Who Became Human.
Good Works During Advent
- Put together a “Service Plan” with a few good works each week (e.g., baking bread for your neighbors, carrying them a meal, or visiting a shut-in).
- Get a group together to go Christmas caroling and leave behind small gifts in the name of Christ (e.g., a few baked goods and an Advent devotional or ESV Economy Bible with the Gospels bookmarked using a Christmas gospel tract).
- Find someone who will be alone for Christmas and invite them to join your family for Christmas or at least for a special meal.
- Set a limit on how much you will spend on gifts and, if needed, cut back your regular spending so that you can make a donation to a ministry or charity. As a gift, you can make a donation to a ministry or charity in someone’s name.
Preparation for Christmas Day
- Remember that Christmas is a holy day. Make it a joyful and spiritual one. On Christmas morning, set aside time for family worship before opening gifts. Read the Christmas story, pray, sing a carol, etc. Talk about Christ.
- Go to a Christmas or Christmas Eve service if your church (or one in your community) has one.