The meaning of Advent has changed over the years. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus and means “coming.”
In ancient times Christians focused their Advent prayers and meditations on the Second Coming of Christ. But over time the birth of Christ and surrounding events have been emphasized more, which is how most Christians today appreciate Advent. Liturgical churches and others keep both comings of Christ in view.
There are many wonderful Advent traditions to help you appreciate Jesus Christ as Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).
In this blog, we guide you on how to make your own plan to celebrate Advent by suggesting readings from Scripture, Advent symbols (e.g., wreaths and colored candles), Advent music and prayers, and Advent devotional cards that are fun to share with family and friends.
A Plan to Celebrate Advent
The best way to appreciate and enjoy the meaning of Advent is to share experiences with your family, friends, and church community.
Here are the steps:
- Select Scriptures for the four Sundays in Advent.
- Make an Advent wreath with Advent colored candles.
- Select Advent music and prayers for the four Sundays in Advent.
- Enjoy Advent devotionals during the week.
The sections below give specific ideas and explanations for each step.
The Four Advent Readings
Each of the four Sundays of Advent introduces a different theme and Scripture readings for the week to share in church services, family gatherings, or personal devotions. Each week anticipation builds for celebrating the coming of Christ on Christmas.
The questions everybody asks are, “What are the four Advent themes in order? What is the sequence of the readings and candles?” Actually, there are different models and sequences that are used to celebrate Advent.
In the ancient church, Advent readings focused on the Second Coming of Christ (Week 1), John the Baptist heralding the coming of the Messiah (Weeks 2 and 3), and the birth of Jesus (Week 4). Many liturgical traditions still follow this model.
Two contemporary models for Advent
Two contemporary models for the four weeks of Advent readings focus on Receiving Christ’s Virtues (in both of his comings) or Celebrating the Christmas Story. In both models, the sequence of the four sets of Scripture readings can be integrated, as illustrated below under “Advent Readings With Candles.” (Within these two general models, different groups use different sequences of the Advent readings and candles.)
Model One: Receiving Christ’s Virtues
- Hope: Isaiah 11:1-3; John 1:14-18; Matthew 24:30-35; Titus 2:11-14
- Peace: Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 3:1-2, Colossians 3:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
- Joy: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Matthew 11:2-11, Philippians 4:4-8
- Love: Zephaniah 3:17; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8; 1 John 4:13-16
Model Two: Celebrating the Christmas Story
- Prophets: Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:2-7
- Angels: Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-7; Luke 2:8-14
- Shepherds: Micah 5:2-4; Luke 2:15-20
- Magi: Matthew 2:1-12; John 3:16-17
Advent Wreaths and Candles
Traditionally, Advent readings on the four Sundays are accompanied by the lighting of candles set in an Advent wreath. This goes back to the 16th Century in Europe.
Lighting a candle in an Advent wreath is a special way to begin the Advent season and teaches the meaning of Advent through symbols. For instance, the liturgical color for Advent is purple to represent the royalty of Christ our King (in ancient times purple dye was costly and rare).
The symbols of Advent express the meaning of Advent by exploring themes related to the coming of Christ. Recall that the order of the four Advent themes and candles varies between groups and people.
- Evergreen wreath: Jesus comes to bring eternal life (John 10:10)
- Circle of wreath: Jesus shows us God’s unending love (John 3:16)
- Candles: Jesus comes as the Light of the World (John 8:12)
- Purple candles: Jesus comes as the royal King (John 18:36)
- Pink candles: Jesus comes to bring us joy (John 15:11, 17:13)
- White candles: Jesus comes as our pure and holy Savior (John 8:46-47; Hebrews 4:15)
Advent Readings With Candles
- 1st Sunday (Hope / Prophets): Purple candle
- 2nd Sunday (Peace / Angels): Purple candle
- 3rd Sunday (Joy / Shepherds): Pink candle
- 4th Sunday (Love / Magi): Purple candle
- Christmas Day (Birth of Jesus!): White candle (the Christ candle)
Music and Prayers for Celebrating Advent
Advent Scripture readings inspire us to worship God and to pray. There are many popular Advent hymns and Christmas carols, along with Advent devotionals and prayers, that can help you appreciate the meaning of Advent and add greatly to celebrations with your church community and family.
Best Advent Songs
Here are some of the most popular Advent hymns and Christmas carols:
- “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by John Mason Neale (1851)
- “Hallelujah Chorus” by George Frederic Handel (1741)
- “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley (1739)
- “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts (1719)
- “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by Charles Wesley (1744)
- “Savior of the Nations Come” by St Ambrose (4th Century)
- “O Come All Ye Faithful” by John Francis Wade (1743)
- “What Child is This?” by William Chatterton Dix (1865)
- “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillips Brooks (1867)
- “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Charles Adam (1847)
- “Silent Night” by Father Joseph Mohr & Franz Xaver Gruber (1818)
An inspiring and fun way to appreciate the true meaning of Advent and Christmas is with Soul Shepherding’s Advent devotional cards, Surprising Joy.
Advent devotional cards help you enjoy a fresh experience of Jesus’ birth through the experience of the Bible characters that celebrated Jesus coming to earth. The devotional cards invite you to enter into the story of the first Christmas with one of 15 different nativity characters like Isaiah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, angels, Joseph, the Innkeeper, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, the star, the magi, sheep, and camels!
Each devotional card features contemporary art portraying the character connected to Jesus’ birth with companion Scripture, reflection, and conversation starter to help you and your friends celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus into our world.
You can pick one Advent card to deeply experience Advent through that nativity character or pick a different one each day for personal devotions throughout the Advent season.
Surprising Joy Advent devotional cards are great to enjoy at small group meetings or celebration events with family and friends of all ages. They also make great Christmas gifts!
Here are Soul Shepherding’s most popular Advent prayers from the Bible:
- “Jesus, Our Immanuel” (Psalm 118; Breath Prayer Guides)
- “Receiving God’s Word” (Luke 1:26-38; Lectio Divina Guides)
- “The Birth of Christ” (Luke 2:1-7; Ignatian Meditation Guides)
- “Breathe in the Miracle of Christmas” (Luke 1:38; Breath Prayer Guides)