Observing Advent at Home: Experiencing the Mystery Anew

This post is Part five in a series on Observing the Advent Season at Home. You may find the previous four posts at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.


Advent is a rich time for experiencing the miracle and mystery of God with us anew. In Advent we remember and retell the story of the radical lengths to which our God goes to know us and be known by us. Inhabiting these mysteries involves disciplines and practices that help us make these connections. Below, as in all of the previous posts in this series (linked above) you will find some suggestions for activities that help foster these connections.

Noticing Sacred Space: One of the amazing features of our tradition is how much the physical worship spaces, practices, and movements of our body in the liturgy reflect the theological themes of the season. Tomorrow the church will change its colors from the growing green of Ordinary Time to penitential and prince-ly purple that characterizes Advent. This is a wonderful thing to point out to your children; they might even point it out to you. Ask members of your family to share what they notice about our sacred space. What is the same? Always present, for example, are the cross, font, and altar; these are permanent fixtures in our building. What is different? The altar arrangements and vestments change,  our Advent wreath hangs on the right side of the Nave, the Magi from our Parish creche hide throughout the sanctuary, and as we approach Christmas our Nave is covered in greens and on Christmas Eve our Altar rails are removed from the chancel. What do these changes say about what happens in Advent? What do we proclaim with our space?

Advent Wreath: As is traditional for our parish, we will gather tomorrow to make Advent wreaths together. Decorating the Advent wreath is a wonderful time to talk about how the wreath helps us move closer to the mystery of Christmas. The wreath is not just a countdown method, but a way of watching the light gather toward the birth of the Messiah. The gradual, growing light might remind us of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light–Those who live in the land of darkness, on them the light has shined. […] For a child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The growing light of our Advent wreaths brings us closer and closer to this mystery. Three purple candles remind us of the penitential nature of the season and one rose-colored candle lit on the third week reminds us of the coming joy. As your family gathers together each evening (or each week) and lights the candles round the Advent wreath, reflect on how the light draws us closer to the mystery of the incarnation.

Handmade Progressive Nativity: We already discussed how we might “search for the Baby Jesus” during the Advent Season in Part II of this series. Alternatively, your family (especially if you have older children) might enjoy watching the story unfold over the weeks by making and placing each character of the nativity, one at a time. Using clothespins (or wooden pegs) make one character at a time. Begin with Mary and Joseph, the animals and shepherds. On Christmas Eve you can make the Baby Jesus and place him in his manger. Once Christmas day has passed, make one Wiseman at a time, until all three are placed around the baby Jesus on Epiphany (January 6).

Observing Advent at Home: Countdowns and Calendars

This post is part four on a series about observing the season of Advent at home. You can find the other posts in this series at the following links: exploring the Magnificatsearching for the baby Jesus, and The Season of the Nativity.


Walk into any retail store over the past two months and it’s clear that preparations for Christmas started weeks before the Church celebrated All Saints. Retail establishments start the fun as quickly as possible. More people have more time to buy more things. Then, when it is over–December 26–it’s over, Christmas is on clearance and it’s back to the daily grind as though the world has not been entirely changed.

Try the suggestions below to help your family ease into the season, dwell in it, and savor the celebration when it arrives.

Beginning in October, Advent Calendars are ubiquitous, but most are covered with Santa and stockings, Christmas trees and reindeer. Most retail “Advent calendars,” moreover, countdown 25 days (the number of days in December leading up to and including Christmas, but not necessarily the number of days the Church spends anticipating the birth of the Savior); these can hardly be considered “Advent” calendars.

Try an Interactive Prayer calendar: You can find a printable for a praying in color Advent calendar here or here. Print a copy for each person in your family. Each night when your family gathers for devotions, read a part of the nativity story. Then, give everyone 5-10 minutes to reflect on and fill in the day with prayers and colorful illustrations of the story. Your calenders might look like some of these.

Advent Paper Chain Countdown: Use purple paper to create a paper Advent chain. Write a good deed, prayer, or part of the Christmas story (from Luke 1 and 2) on the back of each strip of paper. When your family gathers for a meal or evening Advent devotionals, read the paper strip. Use white or gold paper for Christmas Eve and Christmas when we proclaim the best part of the story: the long awaited Messiah has come!

Disciplines of Waiting: Wait to put up the tree and lights until November 30. You may even put up purple lights for Advent and change them to white for the Christmas season. When the first day of Christmas has come to a close, wait to take your tree down until after the first day of Epiphany on January 6.

Are there certain cultural Christmas traditions your family loves–decorating a gingerbread house, listening to Christmas carols, hosting a Christmas party? This year, brainstorm together which of these things you can put “on hold” for the Christmas season. Wait until after December 24th to do these fun activities and fill Advent with preparations and waiting.

Observing Advent at Home: The Season of the Nativity

This post is part three on a series about observing the season of Advent at home. The first post in this series explored the Magnificat, and the second encouraged families to spend Advent searching for the baby Jesus.

Over the past several years, I have followed Sybil MacBeth’s blog on Praying in Color. In seminary, I was introduced to the practice of praying in color and, never one to sit still for long, found it helpful in focusing on the task at hand–thanksgiving, intercession, and praise. Ever since, I have enjoyed the opportunity to share this approach, most recently with our Middle School Church School group or as one option for teachers to choose in Elementary Church School classes.

Recently, while perusing MacBeth’s blog in search of some Advent ideas, I learned that she was releasing a book, The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist, just in time for Advent. Last month when the book was released, I purchased a copy. When it arrived, I was immediately captivated. Written accessibly with a colorful, magazine-style layout, the book is packed with reflections about and ideas for how to observe the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. Some of the activities–a good deeds manger, Advent wreath, or Advent calendar–will be familiar to most readers, while offering a fresh take. Other suggestions–selecting Advent words for family prayer, bringing the words of Scripture to life through body movements, or filling a tree with purple lights–are less likely in a family’s traditional repertoire, and provide reflective, fun ways to focus the season on the gift of Christ.

The ideas in this book seem endless and do-able, without overwhelming the few hours of free-time families have together.

I finished reading the book in one evening and found it so enjoyable that I purchased five copies for parish families to borrow. This Sunday, they will be available at the Advent Wreath Intergenerational event. Afterward, they will find a permanent home on the “parent resources” shelf of the Christian Education Library (located in the while cabinet in the commons) available for check-out alongside our children’s titles. Go here for a closer look at the book. Also check out an interview with Sybil MacBeth from the Patheos Book Club and her corresponding article, “Five Ways to Experience an Extreme Advent.”

Come back later this week for more ideas on Observing the Advent season at home.

Observing Advent at Home: Searching for the Baby Jesus

This is part II in a series of posts scheduled through the first week of December about practicing and observing the Advent season at home. Part I on the Magnificat may be found here. These posts offer ideas and suggestions for inhabiting Advent as we learn to look for and expect the miracle of the Messiah’s birth.

The days before Advent are a perfect time to begin sharing stories about waiting. Children may love to hear the stories of those who long ago waited, prayed, and searched for God’s Messiah, one who ultimately appears in a small stable in the corner of an ancient town far from our own. In Advent, we look and wait for Jesus, anticipating the birth of a child whose birth was announced by angels to shepherds and by stars to Magi from far places.

Spend the Advent season looking for the baby Jesus. When you are putting your family Nativity together, leave out the baby Jesus. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, hide him around the house. Whoever finds him can hide him next (without telling anyone). On Christmas, search far and wide, and upon finding him, place him in the manger and invite your children to share the story of the Nativity.

Here is a sermon from the Reverend Canon Karen Schmidt, “On Searching for Christ during Advent.” You may find her sermon and others from a Cohort of Anglican Churches in the U.K., here.

Observing Advent at Home: the Magnificat

This is part 1 in a series of posts scheduled now through the first week of December about practicing and observing the Advent season at home.


My Soul Proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

During Advent, the Church remembers Israel’s desire for liberation from bondage, prepares to receive the gift of the Christ child, and waits for the second coming of Christ when all manner of things shall be made well.

The Song of Mary, or the Magnificat, is Mary’s response to the news that she will bear the one who will be called “Emmanuel” or God with us. It is the way that she shares with her relative Elizabeth God’s gift of a savior. Mary expresses faith that the promise of the baby Jesus is God’s work of liberation and a demonstration of God’s faithfulness. What kind of expectations does Mary have for a savior? What kind of expectations do all of the people of Israel have? Does Jesus fulfill them? What kind of Savior is Jesus?

This year, your family might enjoy Reading the Magnificat together. You can find the story of Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, you can also find the Song of Mary in the Book of Common Prayer (canticle 15, page 91). If you would like to chant the Song of Mary, you can find the music one of our church’s hymnals (S 242).

In addition to reading or chanting the Magnificat, children and families may enjoy memorizing it together. Use one of the suggestions below to get started:

1. Children of writing age can copy the Song of Mary from the prayer book, decorating the border, and illustrating some of the words.

2.  Write the words of the Magnificat on a poster board and hang it up somewhere in your home (near the family table or in the playroom may be good). Each day, read the poster together, covering a different word or phrase every day until all of the words are covered up.