You can observe the season of Advent in any way that participates in the narrative birth of Jesus and fits your context. Often churches observe this season with a dedicated time given to remembering the glory of Jesus’ birth and praying for his imminent return. They sing hymns and songs to reinforce these truths. They spend time clearing out parts of their lives that have gotten between them and their king.
Churches often sing the traditional songs of Advent and Christmas (look up ‘Advent’ and ‘Christmas’ in any traditional hymnal), and so participate with the wider historical church in affirming things like Jesus’ historical and sinless birth, the entrance of God into the world, the implications of his coming, and his promised return.
Another way that some churches mark the time of this season is with an Advent wreath. The evergreens help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus Christ. The wreath consists of five candles: four candles around the wreath and one white “Christ” candle in the center. One candle is lit each week with a corresponding Scripture reading until all are lit. The growing light and development of the story progressively reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. Each candle is typically assigned a specific theme that diverges considerably amongst the various churches. Two common themes are:
- Week 1: Prophecy or Hope
- Week 2: Bethlehem or Peace
- Week 3: Shepherds or Joy
- Week 4: Angels or Love
- Week 5 (Christmas Eve or Day): Christ Jesus
Advent sermons can cover a variety of topics—as long as they tell the story of Jesus. Mark Driscoll has a helpful post on preaching during the Christmas season.
The Advent season is a time when individuals and families want to read about Jesus and his birth. My previous church, Christ the King Presbyterian Church, has created two devotionals to help individuals and families do that. You can download them here.
5. Fellowship and Hospitality
People expect to get together around the Christmas holiday. Recognizing Advent allows you to encourage your congregation to gather with one another for times to express their unity in Christ. It also allows you to encourage your congregation to demonstrate Christian hospitality to their neighbors through everything from informal gatherings to formal dinners.
People want to serve others during the Christmas season. Advent provides you with an opportunity to love and serve your city—which is a blessing to the city and a way those in your congregation can become more like Jesus, who “came to earth to taste our sadness, he whose glories knew no end. By his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.”