Advent is not itself a biblical word, but it means "a coming." Advent is both a preparatory season for remembering the coming of Christ in Bethlehem and the anticipation of the coming of Christ at the last day. Advent is one of two penitential seasons in the liturgical calendar. For four weeks prior to Christmas, Advent prepares us for the great event of the Incarnation and calls us to meditate on the three "comings" of Christ: his birth at Bethlehem, his coming into our lives today, and his final coming at the end of time.

One of the blessings of Advent is that it counteracts the hype of the commercial Christmas madness by inviting us to a deeper and more fruitful spiritual renewal in postures of hope and waiting.

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Worship Service Ideas for Advent

While the rest of the world is busy hanging Christmas greenery, we "deck the halls" with purple and blue. The church is out of step, as usual, unable or perhaps unwilling to catch the spirit of the holidays. The world wants brightly colored lights and jingling bells; the church gets out the dark blue and sings about how lost we are. Far from what the world expects, Advent begins not on a note of joy, but with a searching inventory of our deep uneasiness and aching need. We dare not rush to Bethlehem and kneel at the manger until we spend some time here, in a purple-hung church, admitting that we do, in fact, need redemption.

When: The four Sundays leading up to Christmas
Liturgical Colors: Purple, violet, or blue (royal blue, deep blue, or just blue)
Associated Objects/Symbols:Advent candles (hope, peace, love, joy, Advent wreath, Chrismons, Jesse Tree


Ideas for Advent from Scripture

In churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the readings for Advent focus on hope in Christ's second coming, repentance (John the Baptist), the anticipation of Christ's birth in prophecy (especially in the book of Isaiah), and the Virgin Mary. However, many passages throughout the entirety of the Bible point to the coming of Christ and are appropriate to use during Advent.

Old Testament Prophecy

Throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the prophets, there are numerous passages pointing to Christ’s coming. Advent provides an opportunity to engage with those texts not only in their original settings, but also in how they point to Christ’s coming. Some of these passages point to the need for Christ; some point to Christ’s sacrifice; some point to the Messiah coming in the lineage of David; and still others foretell the Messiah’s coming and his saving work. A broad selection of these passages could be used, or a particular book, such as Isaiah, could be the foundation for an Advent sermon series.

Advent in the Psalms

The psalms reflect themes of forgiveness, of trusting God, of love of God, of King David and his lineage, and the salvation of God. While many of these are less obviously linked to Christ than some of the Old Testament passages listed above, they still point to Christ. These psalms could serve as calls to worship, prayers of confession, or other pieces of the liturgy, including the sermon text.

  • Psalm 25, In you, Lord my God, I put my trust
  • Psalm 40, I waited patiently for the Lord
  • Psalm 42, As the deer pants for streams of water
  • Psalm 72, Endow the king with your justice, O God
  • Psalm 80, Hear us, Shepherd of Israel
  • Psalm 85, You, Lord, showed favor to your land
  • Psalm 89, I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever
  • Psalm 126, When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion
  • Psalm 146, Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul

Gospel Lessons on Christ: The Savior Has Come

These passages are from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and from John’s gospel and provide narratives of Christ’s birth.

Second Advent

The epistles connect to Advent by tying Christ’s incarnation to calls for God’s people to live in eager expectation of Christ’s second coming. All of these passages point to Christ’s second coming and what was accomplished in the first coming of Christ. These are appropriate in the Advent season of waiting and eager expectation. The season of Advent, a season of waiting, is designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the second coming. In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testament promises, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away. In this way Advent highlights for us the larger story of God’s redemptive plan. (The Worship Sourbook, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013], 427)

For some, Christ's [second] coming is terrifying. Old verities give way at his arrival. Those who make their living by the status quo do not rejoice when the status quo is threatened. Caesar trembles, empires topple, and the earth shakes. For those tied to the old age and its gods, its armies, its delusions of immortality, its false securities, the arrival of the Son of Man is bad news. “Apocalypse now,” cry the prophets of doom. Let us put away these prophets, close our eyes and speak optimistically of tomorrow. But those who have watched, who have heeded the signs, who have never made peace with the status quo, who have lived as if there were no tomorrow prick up their ears, straighten, stand on tiptoes. The Anointed One comes, their redemption is near and the world's doom becomes their deliverance. (William Willimon, Christian Century [Jan. 1, 1983], 1102)

Scripture Songs of Advent

While the Magnificat is the most striking song in the Advent season, songs from both the Old and New Testament that speak of God’s liberation of Israel, God opening the womb of the barren, and others are also appropriate for this time and can be used to praise God not only as a sermon text but sung in services throughout Advent

Light of Christ

I've learned how much the Advent season holds, how it breaks into our lives with images of light and dark, first and last things, watchfulness and longing, origin and destiny. (Kathleen Norris, Cloister Walk [New York: Riverhead Books, 1996], 72)

Call to Repentance

John the Baptist calls us to "prepare the way of the Lord" through repentance, echoing a call that repeats throughout scripture. That's why the church generally refrains from singing Christmas carols during Advent. That's why purple, the color of penitence, adorns our altar and the neck of your preacher. We dare not rush to greet the Redeemer prematurely until we pause here, in a darkened church, to admit that we do need redemption. Nothing within us can save us. No thing can save us. We've tried that before. No president, no bomb, no new car, no bottle, no white Christmas can save. No! to all false consolation, we say. No! to the empty, contrived merriment of a terminal world. Our hope must be in someone out there who comes to us. We find our way only because One comes, takes our hand and leads us home. (William Willimon, Christian Century [Jan. 1, 1984], 1193

Reflection on Advent

Advent is a season of waiting and an opportunity to discover the unique spirituality of waiting. During the waiting times God is vibrantly at work within us, and if, through the Spirit of God, we have been united with the Father in dynamic relationship, if God has sown his gospel seed in us, then Jesus is being formed within us little by little, day by day. But we have to wait if the word is to become flesh within us. And that kind of waiting feels like work. (Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007], 119

Affirmation of Faith for Advent

Belgic Confession, Article 18

So then we confess
that God fulfilled the promise
made to the early fathers and mothers
by the mouth of the holy prophets
when he sent the only and eternal Son of God
into the world
at the time appointed.

The Son took the “form of a slave”
and was made in “human form,”
truly assuming a real human nature,
with all its weaknesses,
except for sin;
being conceived in the womb
of the blessed virgin Mary
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
without male participation.
And Christ not only assumed human nature
as far as the body is concerned
but also a real human soul,
in order to be a real human being.
For since the soul had been lost as well as the body,
Christ had to assume them both
to save them both together.
Therefore we confess
(against the heresy of the Anabaptists
who deny that Christ assumed human flesh
from his mother)
that Christ shared the very flesh and blood of children;
being the fruit of the loins of David
according to the flesh,
descended from David according to the flesh;
the fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary;
born of a woman;
the seed of David;
the root of Jesse;
descended from Judah,
having descended from the Jews according to the flesh;
descended from Abraham—
having assumed descent from Abraham and Sarah,
and was made like his brothers and sisters,
yet without sin.
In this way Christ is truly our Immanuel—
that is: “God with us.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 35–36

What does it mean that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?
That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might become David’s true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.

How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?
He is our mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness he removes from God’s sight my sin—mine since I was conceived.

Westminster Confession, Chapter VIII, Section 2

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

Our Song of Hope, stanzas 1 and 2

Our Hope in the Coming of the Lord
We are a people of hope
waiting for the return of our Lord.
God has come to us
through the ancient people of Israel,
as the true Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth,
as the Holy Spirit at work in our world.
Our Lord speaks to us now through the inspired Scriptures.
Christ is with us day by day.

Our Song in a Hopeless World
We know Christ to be our only hope.
We have enmeshed our world in a realm of sin,
rebelled against God,
accepted inhuman oppression of humanity,
and even crucified God’s son.
God’s world has been trapped by our fall,
governments entangled by human pride,
and nature polluted by human greed.

Our World Belongs to God, stanza 5

God holds this world
with fierce love.
Keeping his promise,
he sends Jesus into the world,
pours out the Holy Spirit,
and announces the good news:
sinners who repent and believe in Jesus
live anew as members of the family of God—
the firstfruits of a new creation.

Our World Belongs to God, stanza 23

Remembering the promise
to reconcile the world to himself,
God joined our humanity in Jesus Christ—
the eternal Word made flesh.
He is the long-awaited Messiah,
one with us
and one with God,
fully human and fully divine,
conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.