What Are Advent Readings & Why Are They Important?
It’s the most wonderful time of year, isn’t it? And while some scoff at carols being sung on the radio before December 1, Christians throughout history have embraced this season of spiritual preparation using Advent readings—short Bible passages read during the lighting of the Advent wreath. This sacred time invites us to slow down from all the holiday preparations and parties, take a deep breath, and remember the reason for the season: the eternal Jesus Christ taking on human flesh. But how do all the different parts of Advent work together, and how can you incorporate Advent into your church or family life? That’s what this article will help you figure out, specifically guiding you through the practice of Advent readings.
What Are the Four Sundays of Advent?
If you’ve ever struggled to keep the four Sundays of Advent straight, you’re not alone. For hundreds of years, faithful Christians have observed the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day as a special time to prepare their hearts, but these practices have changed over time and place.
The first mention of Advent is found in ancient writings dating back to the sixth century, with some anecdotal mentions as early as AD 380 at the Spanish Council of Saragossa! So not only is it an old Christian practice, but it’s also a very personal one, as churches have adapted the practice to suit their local parishes.
So while there’s no authoritative guide to Advent, we can find some commonalities in the ways churches have practiced the observance of Advent throughout history.
Generally, the themes that correspond to each week fall into these categories:
Week 1: Hope (or promise)
Week 2: Preparation (or waiting or prophecy)
Week 3: Joy (or peace)
Week 4: Love (or adoration)
While the differences in weekly Advent themes may be confusing, we can unite in our desire to quiet our hearts during a hectic holiday season and worship Jesus. And the good news is that you can definitely mix and match these weekly themes with various Advent readings that will best serve your congregation or your family. There is no right or wrong way to observe Advent as long as you’re coming to God with a sincere and open heart.
Advent Wreath Candle Lighting Readings for 2019
Twinkling lights and candles everywhere remind us that Jesus is the light of the world that came to dispel the darkness. That theme of light is what originally gave birth to the Advent wreath hundreds of years ago in Lutheran Germany, and it’s become a beloved tradition in many churches and homes. The Advent Wreath is typically an evergreen wreath containing five candles, each lit on successive Sundays during the Advent readings. Some variations of the Advent wreath include different colors to correspond to different themes, while others keep the candles a simple white.
As it’s practiced in church services, the Advent wreath is usually lit at the beginning of the weekly service with its accompanying Advent reading from the Bible. However, many families choose to create an Advent wreath and set it on the dinner table or mantel, lighting the candles and using that family time to remind themselves and their children that the Christmas season is first and foremost about Jesus. Other families set the Advent wreath on their mantel. Again, the beauty of this tradition is that you can make it your own, as it suits you and your family.
As you’ve probably realized by now, the Advent readings themselves also vary among church denominations and traditions, depending on their weekly themes. Some churches, especially in Catholic traditions, read exclusively from the book of Isaiah, while other churches choose passages that correspond to the weekly theme, from either the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Psalms.
Below you’ll find a sampling of Advent readings that correspond to each weekly theme.
First Sunday of Advent Readings: Hope
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. […] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Second Sunday of Advent Readings: Preparation
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”
Third Sunday of Advent Readings: Joy
Matthew 2:10-11, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (NIV)
Fourth Sunday of Advent Readings: Love
John 3:16-19, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
Fifth Sunday (Christmas Eve): Adoration
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Who Should Read the Advent Readings?
One of the beautiful things about the Advent readings above is that they offer churches the opportunity to include both young and old into their services, and the same can be true of private family devotions around the Advent wreath as well. By this point, you’ve probably realized that there are no set criteria for who should read the Advent readings in church. In some denominations, the lead pastor or worship leader may read the Advent reading, as a way of leading the congregation in worship. Alternately, some churches post the Advent readings on large screens to prompt the congregation to read the passage together out loud, in a call-and-response format, as a means of worship. But many Evangelical churches see the Advent readings as a great way to invite young families to participate, dividing the text among parents and children, getting the whole family involved.
Those who choose to incorporate this practice in their homes for family devotions often structure the Advent readings in a question-and-answer format, with a child prompted to ask questions and the parent answering those questions with Scripture. For example, the child may ask, “Why do we light the first candle on the Advent wreath?” And the adult may answer, “This candle reminds us of the promise that a Messiah would come, bringing peace and love to the world.” And then reads the appropriate Advent reading from Isaiah 9:2-7. Gratefully, there are some wonderful Advent devotionals on the market that make this an easy practice for families today.
Are There Any Daily Advent Prayers or Devotionals?
A quick internet search will reveal hundreds of Advent devotionals, but how do you know which one to pick? Here are a few questions to consider when choosing a resource for your church or family:
-Are you looking for weekly Advent readings (like for a church service) or daily readings (for personal or family devotions)?
-Do you want just the Bible text written out, or do you want a devotional to go with it?
-How long or short do you want the daily Advent reading or devotional to be?
-What age range or reading level are you looking for?
-What other extras do you want it to include (like prayers, family devotional guide, service activities, etc)?
-Will this book leave you with a deeper love for Jesus or just a warm feeling that will quickly go away?
Of all the questions above, that last one deserves the most attention, because unless we’re growing in our love and knowledge for Jesus, frankly, we’re wasting our time. And goodness knows the Christmas season is busy enough without fluffy devotionals that do little to transform our hearts.
That’s why I wrote Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional. This beautiful little book is packed with short daily devotionals that lead readers into a deeper love for Jesus, as we unpack each of His Names throughout the Advent season. Divided into the four weeks of Advent, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus features a weekly family/church devotional guide (including Advent readings, suggested carols, and prayers), daily devotionals featuring a different name of Jesus (like Resurrection and the Life, Word of God, Light of the World), daily prayers and challenges, and family activities to bring new meaning to favorite Christmas traditions. If you’re looking for a book to deepen and enrich your Advent experience, something that’s accessible to preschoolers and grandparents alike, you’ll want to order a copy of Unwrapping the Names of Jesus.
May your Christmas season be blessed with a growing love for Jesus, in your life, your family, and your church community this year!
ASHERITAH CIUCIU is an author, speaker, and blogger. She grew up in Romania as a missionary kid and studied English and Women's Ministry at Cedarville University in Ohio. Her passion is helping women find joy in Jesus through a deeper walk with God, and she shares personal stories and practical tips on www.OneThingAlone.com. She's also a regular contributor to FortheFamily.org and Ungrind.com.
Photo credits in order of appearance: ©Unsplash/JoannaKosinska, ©Thinkstock, ©Unsplash/AaronBurden, ©Unsplash/MadaraParma
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!