During the season of Advent, we slow down the busyness of the holiday season and wait. Yes, there are Christmas events to attend to, Christmas shopping that must be done, Christmas parties to prepare for, and Christmas presents to wrap. The amount of tasks we cram into the month of December is the very reason we need to receive the gift of Advent as a way to pace ourselves with hopeful anticipation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
In Praise of Tradition
I didn’t grow up with the liturgical Christian calendar. My spiritual roots are in low-church Baptist and non-denominational charismatic churches which emphasized the importance of Scripture in worship and formation. The Bible doesn’t use words like “Advent,” “Epiphany,” or “Lent,” so we felt no prompting to follow liturgical seasons of the Christian calendar. If God wanted us to follow a sacred calendar, then God would have given us explicit instructions in Scripture.
While the Christian calendar works in tandem with the biblical narrative, it was given to us not through Scripture but by tradition. As much as contemporary and non-denominational Christians want to move beyond traditions in the name of being “biblical,” they cannot discard tradition altogether. All churches, without exception, have traditions. Some local churches have annual events like Advent and Lent and others have annual events like chili cook-offs and summer mission trips. Each local church and Christian denomination have traditions that inform what the church does and how the church does things.
Tradition is the collected wisdom from the past. G.K. Chesterton famously described tradition as the “democracy of the dead.” He remarks, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”1 It’s our ancestors, those who have walked the Jesus way before us, who have given us the Christian calendar.
Traditions like Advent provide rhythms that shape and form us. If we want to experience the peace of God and become peacemakers as sons and daughters of God, then we need the rhythms of peace present in the season of Advent.
Advent Reflection Contrasts Christmas Joy
During Advent we remind ourselves that we need:
- a Savior to rescue us
- a Deliverer to upend injustice
- a Healer to mend what is broken
- a Shepherd to lead us to the place of shalom (peace).
Advent counteracts the shallow sentimentality of Christmas as cheap entertainment and an American commodity. Advent reminds us that not all is well with God’s good world. We need help.
The beauty of the Christian calendar is in the contrast it creates. Advent, and especially Lent, offers a slow enough pace to recognize the brokenness within us and within society. Make no mistake, Christmas joy begins to seep into Advent. Feel free to hang Christmas lights on your home and decorate a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments during Advent. Christmas decorations pull a lot of Christmas joy into Advent.
But if you have a chance, sit in your living room with your fully lit Christmas tree. Turn off all other lights. Sit in the warm glow of the Christmas lights without music playing, without a podcast in your ears, and without the distraction of your phone and remember Gaza City, Sderot, Kyiv, and cities and towns closer to home where people suffer under the weight of poverty, homelessness, and the threat of violence. It is for them that “a child has been born;” it is for them that “a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). Advent reminds us of the problems for which Christmas is the answer. This reminder attunes our hearts to the peace so desperately needed in our world.
While the Christian calendar works in tandem with the biblical narrative, it was given to us not through Scripture but by tradition. All churches, without exception, have traditions. (1/3) Click To Tweet
Some local churches have annual events like Advent and Lent and others have annual events like chili cook-offs and summer mission trips. Each local church has traditions that inform what and how the church does things. (2/3) Click To Tweet
Tradition is the collected wisdom from the past. Traditions like Advent provide rhythms that shape and form us. If we want to experience the peace of God and become peacemakers ourselves, then we need Advent rhythms of peace. (3/3) Click To Tweet
Isaiah, the Poet of Peace
Lectionary readings in the Old Testament during the season of Advent often come from Isaiah. We come across so much messianic content in Isaiah that some people have called Isaiah “the fifth gospel.” Isaiah sought to both criticize Israel for her corruption and energize Israel with hope for the future.
Isaiah’s prophecies about the age to come under the rule of the Messiah read like poetry. Eugene Peterson in his introduction to Isaiah in The Message writes, “Isaiah does not merely convey information. He creates visions, delivers revelation, and arouses belief. He is a poet in the most fundamental sense — a maker, making God present and that presence urgent.”2
The Old Testament reading for the First Sunday of Advent for Year A (which was in 2022) was Isaiah 2:1-5, which speaks of nations coming to the mountain of God, the place where God will make things right:
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
let’s live in the light of God. (Isaiah 2:1-5, MSG)
The hope for a world without war didn’t begin with John Lennon and the anti-war protests of the 1960s. This hope for peace is embedded in the poetry of Isaiah and actualized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The well-known line from Isaiah which is so popular at Christmas — “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us” (Isaiah 9:6, NRSV) — follows Isaiah’s prophecy of peace. The promise of a son is given so that “all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:5, NRSV).
Isaiah’s poetic dream for peace reaches a climax in chapter 65:
“Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God. (Isaiah 65:25, MSG)
Meditating on these passages during Advent draws us into an orbit of peace that can form us into peacemakers. Jesus came to lead us to this holy mountain of peace, where we learn ways of co-existence without hurting or killing each other, either literally or rhetorically.
Spiritual Formation Practices for Advent
There are no rules around Advent, just a number of different traditions. These traditions can create rhythms that lend themselves to our formation into Christlikeness. One common practice is the lighting of an Advent wreath either at church or in your home. Four candles surround a large central candle, the Christ candle. One candle is lit during each of the four Sundays of Advent and the Christ candle is lit either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
A number of Advent devotionals can be found that provide daily readings during the season of Advent. These devotionals help to bridge the Sundays of Advent with reflections for every day. I have recently enjoyed Brian Zahnd’s The Anticipated Christ: A Journey Through Advent and Christmas.
For daily Scripture reading during Advent, I recommend the Daily Office Lectionary, a two-year Bible reading plan. Designers selected passages from the Bible fitting for the various seasons of the Christian year. The Daily Office Lectionary begins with the season of Advent and provides Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings for every day. I appreciate the order because the last thing I read in the morning is something from Jesus or something about Jesus.
I have recently published a revised and updated version of the Daily Office Lectionary. I have moved around some of the readings. Also, I have replaced the readings from the Apocryphal books with additional readings from the Old Testament, since most Protestant Bibles and modern translations do not include the Apocrypha. Reading the Scripture passages provided in the Daily Office Lectionary helps to build the anticipation for Christmas and increase our peace in the waiting!
Derek Vreeland is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He and his wife Jenni have three boys, Wesley, Taylor, and Dylan. He earned a MDiv from Oral Roberts University and a DMin. from Asbury Theological Seminary. Derek is the author of numerous books including By the Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus (2019), and his newest work, Centering Jesus: How the Lamb of God Transforms Our Communities, Ethics, and Spiritual Lives, released in August 2023.
Advent draws us into an orbit of peace that can form us into peacemakers. Jesus came to lead us to this holy mountain of peace, where we learn ways of co-existence without hurting or killing each other, literally or rhetorically. Click To Tweet
1 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy Reprint (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 45.
2 Eugene Peterson, The Message Devotional Bible (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2018), 761.