Advent Wreaths

Are you preparing for Advent yet? Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The period of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day and is a time of preparation leading up to Christmas. We look back and remember Israel’s waiting for the first coming of Jesus, we look inward and celebrate His presence in our hearts, and we look forward with longing to His second coming.  For me, it’s a time for reflection and finding moments of stillness in what can be an incredibly busy season.

Our church will be going through the book, Prepare Him Room, by Marty Machowski during Advent this year.  It looks like a great book and I’m excited to read through it as a church family on Sundays and with our family during the week.  It has scripture readings, suggested songs and crafts/activities to do together.

The first activity in the book (before starting the readings) is making your own Advent wreath. Some people are very particular about the Advent wreath being evergreen and about the colors of the candles (3 purple, and 1 pink and a white pillar candle for the center). In some traditions, the candles stand for Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherds, and Angels. In others, the candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  Sometimes all the candles are red. Sometimes they are all white or all blue.

If you don’t have time to make your own wreath, craft stores and Christian bookstores (and websites) carry pre-made wreaths. But there are also different ways you can make your own Advent “wreath.” It can be as simple as 4 candles of any kind. Or you can even just light one candle. The candles are simply a symbol of the light of God coming into the world through His son, Jesus Christ. Please, just don’t let this be the thing that holds you back from making time during the season of Advent to “prepare Him room.”

Here are some different candle arrangements I’ve done in years past:

Ann Voskamp’s Journey to Bethlehem candle spiral with traditional Advent candles marking the Sundays:

Journey to Bethlehem with just tealight candles

Advent candle holder (but not a wreath) with traditional colors

Four tealights in glass holders in a pottery tray

Pillars in a wooden tray

Advent candle holder with white candles

Pillars in a tray

Traditional Advent wreath with white candles

You can probably tell I have a preference for white candles!

There are many, many more ideas on Pinterest. But, just as Christmas is not all about the lights, the tinsel, and the presents, Advent is not about the candles. It’s all about your heart. If Jesus is already your Savior, Advent is a wonderful time to be mindful of His presence. If He isn’t yet, now is the perfect time to accept His gift of salvation.

I’ve also created an Advent playlist. These are songs of longing and reflection. Of the coming light of Jesus into our dark world. I pray it’s a blessing to you during Advent.

 

The Book of Revelation

Our church has been following a New Testament reading plan this year and we have used it for our family devotions every evening. According to the plan, we would be reading the book of Revelation this month, which is great for the season of Advent, but as a family, we wanted to go through a devotional book together instead.  So, to complete our plan, we decided to listen to the book of Revelation and follow along in our Bibles. Another member of our church had lent me a copy of Karen Heimbuch’s recording of Revelation.  Karen Heimbuch has memorized Revelation and presents it at churches.  Her memorization of scripture is inspiring.

You can listen to it for free on Youtube here. We finished listening to it last night and it was intense! How beautiful is God’s plan! He is righteous and just!

Here is Karen talking about memorizing scripture.

 

That’s What Advent Is For

I had trouble sleeping last night. Not terribly unusual for me but always unwelcome. As I tried to get back to sleep, I prayed for the people in my life that I know are facing struggles and difficulties. And as much as I love the Christmas season, I know it’s not a “Holly Jolly Christmas”for everyone all the time. And the thought ran through my head over and over, “this is what Advent is for.”

Advent simply means “coming,” so part of Advent is repentance that our sin was the reason that made His first coming necessary, but then comes the  joyful celebration at Christmas that He DID come to redeem us.  But also, we look ahead to His second coming. The fact that we live in this broken world and struggle with our own trials and difficulties makes us long for the time when Jesus will come again and make all things right.

That’s what Advent is for. Advent is for waiting. It’s a time for preparing our hearts. It’s a time for longing. It’s a time for hope.

I love the tree, and the lights and the happy songs and the nostalgic songs and all the fun times with friends. But I love finding the quiet too.

I put together a playlist for Advent. Songs new and ancient. Songs of waiting, hoping, calling out to God for help and songs that speak of Jesus, the coming light. Maybe it will be a way for your heart to “prepare Him room.” I pray it will be a blessing to you.

 

 

What we miss when we gloss over Good Friday

On Good Friday, among my Christian friends, a common post on Facebook is some variation of “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming!” It’s a quote from this message which is a beautiful expression of what it would have been like on that Friday, yet looking back with the knowledge that all the grief would be wiped away on Sunday. I appreciate the hope that the message communicates. We don’t know on our worst days when our Sunday will come. But I wonder if those who are so quick to post the glib quote without the context of the rest of the message might be missing out on some important things.

If we skip over Friday and get right to Sunday, we don’t have to reflect on our sin as the cause for Friday. Good Friday gives us the opportunity to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For our sin. “It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished.” Good Friday gives us the opportunity to lament. The Psalms are full of lament but that’s a largely lost practice in most contemporary evangelical churches.

At our Good Friday service this evening we’ll be singing “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” but we’ll end at verse 3 which takes us through the crucifixion and we won’t sing verse 4 because it’s about the resurrection. Will it feel incomplete? Yes, it probably will. And that’s the point. We should leave tonight with a feeling of incompleteness and of longing.

If we skip right through Friday and Saturday we don’t have to figure out what to do with that awkward day between the remembrance of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. Saturday gives us opportunity to sit in the silence of God, knowing that even when God seems to be silent, He is not absent.

So let’s rejoice in the resurrection on Resurrection Sunday. But let’s not skip there too quickly. There are lessons to be learned in each day.

Weekend Links

I enjoyed thinking over this post from Haven Today. Corum Hughes writes:

For many of us, worship is what we do when we sing to God in church. Others would define it as the entire church service. Some would simply say we worship God by living our day-to-day lives as believers who seek to honor Christ.

None of these answers would be wrong. In fact, each could make one very complete definition of worship. The problem is, we don’t often realize the implications of what we are doing, who we are worshiping, or why we should do it in the first place.

You can read the entire post here. 

Weekend Link

I was encouraged by this article by Keith Getty this week. Our congregation actually doesn’t have a problem with this. They sing out strong and make leading a joy. But this is a good reminder of why it’s important.

Singing affects how we pray, think, and feel. It influences our memory banks and even the deepest parts of our subconscious.

You can read the rest here.

Weekend Links

I like the balanced view in this post by Matthew Starner, You’re Not Too Cool for Traditional Or Too Mature for Contemporary.

Those hymns are a gift given to us by our spiritual forefathers. Yes, there are weak hymns that get replaced by stronger ones. Yes, there are some that are better suited to your theological or denominational position than others. But to simply throw out all hymns is to say that these gifts from those who have gone before us are worthless.

So no, you’re not too cool for traditional. You need the depth of content that hymns bring to your worship experience.

If hymns communicate God’s truth, modern worship songs help us apply that truth. They both have a role to play in worship and help us grow as disciples of Jesus. There’s a place for both of them in worship.

Jamie Brown wrote on the Short Shelf Life of New Worship Songs.

Just when we’ve gotten a handle on introducing a new song to our congregation that was written in 2012, a newer new song comes along that’s even newer, making the new song we thought was new feel pretty old. Confused? You should be.

What “new” songs are already old to you?