Thanksgiving has come and gone and we are officially in the “Christmas season”. It seems that as every year passes the Christmas season becomes longer and longer. As someone who loves Christmas this has some obvious pros. Decorations go up sooner, there seem to be more pre-Christmas celebrations, and the stores start playing some of my favorite Christmas songs (yes I am one of those people who loves department store Christmas music). Unfortunately one of the things that gets forgotten in the every expanding Christmas celebration is Advent. The goal of Advent is not to expand the Christmas celebration but rather to prepare us for it. One of the dangers of surrounding Christmas with a fog of advertisements and “Holiday cheer” is that our focus becomes exhausted and confused. Christmas Day almost feels less significant and impactful because we have been doing Christmas for over a month. Advent’s aim is to sharpen our focus, prepare our minds and souls, and direct our passions towards longing for Christ’s return as we celebrate His incarnation. Traditionally Advent has been a time of fasting and prayer. There are many ways that we can fully participate in the Advent season that will magnify the Christmas celebration, but here a few suggestions on how you could incorporate fasting and prayer this Advent season.
Deliberately abstaining from food or other things that we would normally indulge in is a historically significant and spiritually powerful way to focus ourselves on God’s work in our life. Fasting encourages the formation of discipline and serves as a powerful reminder to turn our focus towards God throughout the day. This Advent season consider picking one thing from which to abstain for a set time and use the time saved and the focus sharpened for prayer or Scripture reading. The thing you give up does not necessarily have to be food. It could be social media, hot showers, a favorite beverage… the list goes on and on. Whatever you chose to give up, it should be something that is pleasurable enough to be missed but not so burdensome that it is not realistic. A tip I have found helpful is to be very specific about the fast. Pick a specific day of the week or a specific time of day to make the most of the fast. Maybe you decide to abstain from hot showers on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Use the discomfort as a reminder to say a morning prayer. Or if you skip lunch on Tuesdays make a plan to read a portion of Scripture during the time you would normally spend preparing and consuming your meal. A Bible study plan I have found helpful during Advent is to read through the Gospels but skip the portions that describe His birth. This can help to direct our attention towards Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection so that when Christmas arrives we have our minds focused on the reason that His birth is so significant.
Advent is a great time to direct our prayers towards thanking God for the incarnation and asking Him to prepare us for His return. One of the things I have found helpful is to choose a recited prayer to do in addition to my spontaneous prayers. This shakes up my normal prayer routine and reminds me daily that this is a special season to foster gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice and encourage anticipation for His return. This is also a great time to ask God to strengthen our relationships with friends and family. Christmas often times provides plenty of opportunities to spend time with friends and family. We may have some family members or friends that we don’t see eye to eye on in every situation. Recently I saw a large amount of articles, which offered instructions of how to get the upper hand in social and political debates during family gatherings. I love a lively discussion and debate but sometimes these disagreements can begin to drive a wedge in our relationships. We can get so focused on the ways we disagree that we begin to treat those we love as opponents in an ideological face off rather then as people we love despite our disagreements. I am not suggesting that we eliminate these discussions or completely ignore our differences. I am suggesting that we pray for our family and friends and specifically for those who we disagree with. It is amazing how praying daily for people can be used by God to grow our love and understanding for them. It can help remind us that even those who we vehemently disagree with are created in the image of God and therefore warrant our love and understanding.
Hopefully you will find some of these suggestions helpful this Advent season. I pray that God will work in all our lives to increase our gratitude for His life, death, and resurrection, and to fill us with anticipation for His return.
Author: Nathan Phillips, Associate Pastor at the River Alliance Church