I became aware of Sybil MacBeth’s work when I began researching topics for Project Prayer. She has a wonderful website called Praying in Color. I wanted to include her Praying in Color Advent ideas and handouts with you, so I reached out to her. As we wrap up Project Prayer and begin to look forward to Christmas, today’s Postcard was the logical place to have Sybil share with you. Please welcome guest blogger Sybil MacBeth.
Preparation for Christmas
& the Daily Journey with God
Advent is my favorite season of the year. As the world outside my house turns dark and cold in the northern hemisphere, my wistful reaction is to turn inward. I curl up in a comfortable chair, light candles, drink hot tea, and become nostalgic and contemplative. In many ways this is exactly what Advent is about. The word advent means “coming.” During the four weeks before Christmas, we remember the coming of Jesus into the world over two thousand years ago and anticipate the coming of Jesus again at the end of history. But Advent is not just about the coming of Jesus in the distant past and in the far future, it is about his coming into our lives today, tomorrow, and every day. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” says the prophet Isaiah. Advent is the time we burrow down and prepare the soil of our minds and hearts to receive Jesus anew at Christmas. It is a gestation time and the dress rehearsal for the way to live every day of the year.
Wake up. Watch. Hope. Prepare. Listen. Repent. Pay attention. Wait. These stirring and urgent verbs are the language of Advent, but they are also the daily, all-year-round vocabulary of Christians. Christians are Advent people. We do not just celebrate the past and wait for the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the future. We are active and incremental “waiters.” As a flesh-and-blood Savior, Jesus invites and commissions us to put our feet on the ground and join him in God’s kingdom-building pilgrimage on earth. Advent helps to prepare us for this seemingly endless and difficult work. It is no accident that Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is the preparation for Christmas but it is also our recommitment to the one-day-at-a time journey with Jesus and God for another year. Our Advent practices, reflection, Scripture study, and prayer hone and sharpen our spiritual tools as ready pilgrims on a 365-day mission with God.
Here are a few of my favorite Advent practices and activities. They help me to develop the daily discipline I need to be a pilgrim all year long. It is so tempting to jump right into Christmas mode as soon as Thanksgiving is over. These activities invite me to slow down and hold back– just a little.
My all-time favorite practice is creating an Advent calendar. I love the Advent calendar because it marks my one-day-at-a time walk with God. You can use any calendar template for December but I have created several free templates to download available from my website: prayingincolor.com. You can also make your own calendar templates. There are many ways to use them, but here are two ways:
1) Read a daily Scripture passage or one of the many wonderful devotionals available for Advent. Each day choose an Advent word to write in the space. Doodle around the word. Add color with markers or pencils. Ponder the word, listen to it, and ask God to speak to you through this word. Sit with it in silence.
2) Pray for a person each day. Write the name. Draw around it and add color. Use words for your prayers if you want, but think of each stroke of the pen or marker as a wordless prayer. Release the person into God’s care and sit with them in silence.
I think of this calendar as a “countup” to Christmas and not a “countdown.” At the end of Advent you will have a colorful dictionary of Advent words or a beautiful visual prayer list.
Below is an example of last year’s calendar. I prayed a different Advent word each day.
Here are the six templates for Advent 2018. You can download them for free from my Handouts Page. This year the season is only twenty-three days long and starts on December 2.
Color—Purple or Blue
Purple or blue are the colors of Advent. Whether you are a purple or blue Advent devotee, splash your house or apartment with Advent color. For me, a string of purple lights, a purple paper chain, or a purple ribbon on a wreath acts as a STOP sign. “Wait; it is not yet Christmas. Slow down. Enjoy this time of preparation.”
Plants and Bulbs
To teach children (and adults) about watching and waiting–but not waiting in vain—plant paperwhite narcissus or amaryllis bulbs at the beginning of Advent. Fill a clear container with potting soil or stones. A clear container makes the growth of the roots visible. Plant the bulb in the soil or stones with about half of the bulb showing above the surface. Place the bulbs in a warm spot near a window. Watch the daily, incremental growth of the plant. Daily watering can be the task of even a young child. Even as an adult, I never tire of watching the day-to-day progress of the green stalks and the ultimate flowering of the plant.
Create a place where people can go to be alone and quiet. A little table in a corner with a battery-operated votive candle, a few sprigs of greenery, a purple ribbon, and an old-fashioned three-minute sand- or salt-filled egg timer creates an enticing place for children and adults to be alone and quiet. Invite children to turn on the candle, turn over the egg timer, and sit in the mystery of dark and silence for three minutes.
Advent Tree or Bush
Go ahead and buy a Christmas tree during Advent but string purple, blue, or white lights on it. Use the tree as a large Advent calendar and pin an Advent word a day onto it. See if you can hold off on adding the Christmas ornaments until after December 20. Another option is to hang a long piece of string or ribbon on the wall and clothespin the words on it.
[From Bible Study Journey: I (Trisha) for one am going to try one of her Advent handouts this year. I just have to decide which one. What are you going to do? In the comments below, let us know if you try any of Sybil’s ideas. We would also love to hear how you celebrate Advent.]
Sybil MacBeth is the author of The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist and Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God. Sybil combines her lifelong love of prayer with her experience as a community college math professor to offer workshops on prayer for people with varied learning styles. For more ideas about Advent or praying in color, check out her blog on prayingincolor.com.
Check here for Sybil’s books.
If you are just joining us, check out our most recent series, Project Prayer. You can begin (or browse) the series here.