“Jesus is the Reason for the Season” has become a cliché.
For the most part, even Christians have began to celebrate Christmas as a commercialized holiday devoted to materialism. Even those of us who are more mindful might remind ourselves that the stuff doesn’t matter, it is the people we love that make Christmas special. And so the true meaning of this holiday season, our Savior coming as a baby, gets lost in the shuffle of paper, toys, and nice warm feelings. Because of this, in the past few years, my family and I have shifted our focus from a traditional Christmas to a celebration of Advent. It has been a no-regret transition for us and I do not see us ever turning back. We have felt like the true meaning of Christ’s birth has been more real and significant to us through our newly established Advent traditions. In years past, I thought Advent was just a fun little countdown before The Big Day of Presents!
I was way off.
If you’re not entirely sure what Advent is or what it is all about, here’s a well written definition:
“The time before Christmas is Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas. Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. In Advent, we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savior’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word advent us, which means “coming” or “visit.” In the season with this name, we keep in mind both “advents” of Christ, the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come. — via Mark Roberts”
That is what it is all about anyway, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong we have not gone completely Scrooge about Christmas. We still decorate, exchange gifts, and make treats and of course, we still love Christmas books, movies and music. We have, however, pared all of that way down to make sure we do not crowd out what is most important. We have sorted through our traditions, choosen what is the most meaningful to us and try to do what works well and age-appropriately for our family each year. Whether you’ve participated in Advent before or would like to explore it further, here is a list of Advent devotion apps, ebooks, and more, to help get you started enjoying Advent during the upcoming season.
Advent Devotion Apps
If you do a couple searches on iTunes or Google Play, you’ll quickly find that most of the Advent apps you find are full of Christmas trees and Santa. Most of them are a simple countdown calendar until Christmas, offering little to no mention of the real reason for this season. Here’s a roundup of good Advent devotion Apps:
The Expected One Advent Guide
While the following apps are free, this one will cost you a buck. That being said, this is my favorite of the bunch. The Church at Brook Hills (David Platt) uses this resource during Advent and it can be purchased in a few other digital formats, too.
From the iTunes description:
“The Expected One Advent Guide is an Advent devotional designed to unite families and foster spiritual conversations about Jesus Christ and the significance of His coming to earth. Tracing the promise of a Messiah through the Old Testament stories and the message of the prophets, The Expected One stirs up a sense of anticipation for families who seek to focus their attention and affection on Jesus Christ during the holiday season.”
Advent Devotions is an Advent app produced by Saddleback Church and is free to download.
From the iTunes description:
“Advent is a season of hoping, expecting and longing for Jesus’ coming. It is a time to focus our hearts on what Christmas is truly about. Saddleback Church Retreat Ministry has produced this “Advent Devotions” App to do just that. It is designed to prepare your heart for Christmas. The Devotions are divided into four weeks. Each week focuses on a different theme: hope, peace, joy, love.”
Caritas Advent 2013
This app, as you can see, is beautiful. It’s free to download for your Android or iOS device and takes a unique approach to Advent:
- Help people help themselves regardless of religion, political beliefs or ethnicity;
- Deliver long-term development programs;
- Conduct humanitarian and emergency responses;
- Educate and activate the Australian community on issues of global justice.
Also, from the iTunes description:
“Come on a journey around the world this Advent with Caritas Australia. Using the symbols of the Jesse Tree you can learn, pray and act daily with and for communities around the world. The recommended audience for this app is secondary students/adults.”
You may remember the Advent Conspiracy from the past few years. They’ve now taken things to a new level with the Advent Conspiracy mobile app. Unlike your typical Advent resources, this app is completely different in its approach. It’s a tool, not a calendar devotional for counting down at all.
Here’s a closer—and extremely creative—look:
From the iTunes description:
“What if Christ-followers started a countercultural movement that reached far beyond a few days each December? Our Advent Conspiracy app provides a simple and secure way to make a choices each day to spend less on ourselves and provide access to clean water and justice for those oppressed around the world. Together we are conspiring to spend less, give more, worship fully and love all. Imagine how the world might be different this next year?”
Advent Devotional eBooks
Apps are great, but perhaps you’re interested in something a little more in-depth, creative, or something that the entire family can gather around (which is my personal favorite way to do it).
Here are several options for you and your family, some free, some paid, but all awesome.
A Jesus Advent Celebration by Ann Voskamp
Our family has used this for a few years ago and we have really enjoyed it.
We also used a version this #EPIC Candle to the Cross candle wreath (which can also be used for Easter/Lent) along with it:
You may also want to add these Jesse Tree ornaments into the mix. Celebrating the birth this way will help put the focus back where it belongs. I promise.
The Story Warren Family Advent Art and Reading Guide
The Story Warren is an excellent blog and their Family Advent Art and Reading Guide is what we’ll be using this year. It’s done in conjunction with The Jesus Storybook Bible and is tailored towards kids really well. They not only provide the free PDF reading guide, but also a free Advent art PDF download, too. The Jesus Storybook Bible is not free, but we have both a hardbound and e-book versions, and is a resource that every family should have. Trust me. Worth every cent– Buy it now.
You can get all the free accompanying PDF downloads here.
Behold the Lamb of God Narrative by Russ Ramsey
Based on Andrew Peterson‘s Behold the Lamb of God album (our family’s favorite Advent music), Russ Ramsey writes a beautiful Advent narrative:
“Drawing from the hallowed pages of Scripture and with an eye toward both wonder and ground-level detail, Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative brings to life the people, the places, and the earthshaking significance of the greatest story ever told—the true tall tale of the coming of Christ.”
If you order the ebook or hardcover, I highly recommend getting Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, too.
Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
John Piper is always solid and this free ebook is no exception.
“…this book of Advent devotionals aims to put Jesus at the center of your holiday season. These short meditations are excerpted from the ministry of John Piper and correspond to the daily readings in Desiring God’s free devotional app, Solid Joys (available in iTunes and Google Play), as well as online.”
The Harpooner by Thomas McKenzie
Thomas McKenzie is one cool dude. He does the One Minute Review, a review of new movies that rarely last a minute and is the pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, TN.
“Over 1600 years later, the Church still celebrates the four weeks before Christmas as a time of special focus on the spiritual life. This year, I’m offering a devotional guide for the Advent season. Inspired by Herman Melville and Eugene Peterson, I call it The Harpooner.”
It’s available in ebook form as a PDF or an ePub file. It can be read on your e-reader, smartphone, computer, or tablet. The print version is available in paperback. The devotional is 25 chapters long, with an introduction, about 72 pages. You can get it here, or at Amazon.com/author/mckenzie.
For those who keep their nose in the YouVersion Bible app, perhaps one of the many different devotionals and reading tracks may be the way to go. Here’s a list of the YouVersion Advent offerings—which is a fancy link to a YouVersion search. 😉
Advent Online Calendars
Younger kids really like Advent calendars (and sometimes big kids like myself do, too!), but most of them tend to focus on Santa, Christmas trees and the focus tends to be placed more on counting down to The Great Day of Gifts than Christ’s celebrated birth. Here are a couple online options you may want to consider:
This is basically an online version of the before-mentioned Caritas Australia mobile app. Although I wouldn’t recommend it for the kids, it would make a great default tab for your browser to open up to every morning as you start your day from your desktop. 🙂
The Advent Conspiracy
I’m not sure if this would be good to do with the kids or not, as this is the first I’ve seen it. Unlike the Caritas calendar mentioned above, this is an extension of The Advent Conspiracy and makes a great addition to any Advent that you may be doing. At this point, it would appear as though each day will be some sort of video. I am really looking forward to seeing this one unfold. 😀
WhyChristmas.com Online Advent Calendar
This wouldn’t be a complete list without mentioning ChurchMag’s own James Cooper (look for James on the upcoming Christmas ChurchMag Podcast!) WhyChristmas.com is a great place for Christmas resources and a safe place to let your kids click-around and have fun. 😀
Advent begins December 1st this year, so if you’re reading this after December 1st, don’t loose heart! There’s still plenty of time to jump in!
In fact, the first year we began to do it as a family, we started almost a whole week in. We played catch-up, but it would have been just as rewarding had we jumped in the middle. 🙂 The point is, whenever you begin this year, you’ll be sure to remember it and start on December 1st next year. Don’t worry about making everything Pinterest perfect, just relax and get your focus on Jesus.
As I said before, this season now holds a much richer and more dynamic meaning than it has ever before in my life. The act of celebrating Advent will certainly bring you a deeper joy focusing on the true meaning of the season, will also help you shape your children’s understanding of the Greatest Story as you focus on Jesus together.
Will you be participating in Advent this year?
If you’ve participated in years past, what are some of your favorite resources?