What is Advent? A Worship Leader's Guide

Is Advent that important? 

It's that time of year again! Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas is ahead of us, and if you’re anything like my church, you and your fellow leadership team are already focusing on Christmas Eve and Christmas services.

It’s a really exciting, busy time both at home and at my church as we prepare for Christmas day. But I wanted to take a moment to pause and think about our tendency to jump from Thanksgiving right into December 25th. 

I think in the hustle of preparing for this one exciting day, we may miss the importance of the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Collectively, these four weeks are known as “Advent”  according to the Liturgical Calendar. 

Wait, what calendar??

Historically speaking, the church has observed the Liturgical Calendar in order to tell the gospel story over the span of a whole year. This calendar divides the year into seasons and focuses on different theological themes, moods, prayers and ways of decorating the church and dressing the clergy throughout the year.

Most Evangelical churches have moved away from this calendar, but I think it’s a useful guide for us in our worship services. 

In fact, I used to lead worship in the Anglican church, and I’ve noticed that our modern, Evangelical churches are missing out by not observing some of the rhythms and rituals of the Liturgical Calendar.

Whether you were already familiar with the Liturgical Calendar or not, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ve heard about a few of its observances, Lent and Advent. Those are the weeks leading up to Easter and Christmas, respectively. Unfortunately we don’t give those seasons much time or attention. 

I think that if we paid more attention to these seasons in our worship planning, they could accomplish a lot of great things when it comes to our congregation's spiritual lives and growth as disciples. 

What does Advent mean? 

In short, the four weeks of Advent are meant to be a season of hope, anticipation and even repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ. 

I found a great quote on how we should prepare from a favorite book of mine, The Worship Sourcebook which says,

“A deliberate attention must be built into our practice of the Advent season. Christ has come, and yet not all things have reached completion. While we remember Israel's waiting and hoping and we give thanks for Christ's birth, we also anticipate his second coming at the end of time. For this reason, Advent began as a penitential season. A time for discipline and intentional repentance in the confident expectation and hope of Christ coming again.”

According to that, we should have two things on our mind when we celebrate Advent. 

  1. We look back on the joy and significance of receiving Christ as a baby. 

  2. While we’ve already received the incarnation of Christ and His Holy Spirit, there is still much to look forward to–the joy when we will receive Him a second time. 

These two beliefs are already infused into our holiday activities whether we acknowledge them or not. We have hope that the light of the world is coming which is why we have the Advent wreath. We light one purple candle each week causing the wreath to get brighter and brighter. Then we finally light the Christ candle on December 25th that's at the center of the wreath which symbolizes that the light of the world has come.

So what exactly are worship leaders supposed to do during Advent? 

As a worship leaders, it's our responsibility to emphasize these themes of the Advent season so I put together a couple practical takeaways for you to implement in your worship services. 

1. Curate your songs

Knowing that the season of Advent is defined as a period of waiting and longing affects how we choose our songs and lead our community. 

Let me give you an example. 

You’ve probably heard of the popular songs, Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel or Come Thou Long, Expected Jesus.

Typically we think of these as Christmas songs, but they’re actually Advent songs. The longing is noticeable from their titles as well as their lyrics. 

Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel/

Shall come to you, O Israel.

The line announces that Christ will come and people should rejoice not because Immanuel has arrived, but because He will come. 

Come Thou Long, Expected Jesus

Born thy people to deliver/

born a child and yet a King.

This line speaks to the purpose of Christ’s birth–to grow and free His people from sin while also addressing the idea that though a child, He is simultaneously a king. 

Each lyric acknowledges the fact that certain parts of Christ have already been revealed to us, yet we’re still waiting on and eagerly expecting other aspects to be made known to us. 

I’ve curated a complete list of my favorite contemporary worship songs for Advent and Christmas time which address the themes of longing, repentance and hope for Christ's second coming. Many think of these as Christmas songs, but their themes place them as Advent songs. I also included a couple recommendations of songs that you could use year-round because they do a great job of hitting on the themes of confession, repentance and hope in Christ's second coming.

2. Scripture readings

Another practical thing you can do is implement Scripture readings and prayers that you could lead as a worship leader and have the community join you.

The Worship Sourcebook is a great place to get started because they have a whole chapter on the season of Advent. They have a bunch of ideas of Scripture passages that you and your congregation can read and they also included some prayers already prepared that you could read as well.

3. Focus on the worship space you’re using

My third practical tip is to think about the design and look of your worship space.

Consider using some darker colors during this season. You don't want it to look completely depressing, but I plan on using a lot more dark purple and blue lighting scenes in our worship gathering.

Then, when we celebrate Christmas and that Christ has come, we'll lighten things up a bit with some other color schemes. 

Recap

  1. Be intentional about the songs you pick and make sure they fit the season you’re in.  

  2. Incorporate prayers and scripture readings during your worship.  

  3. Be intentional about the overall aesthetic of your worship services. 

If you want to continue improving your worship ministry, whether it's the way you pastor your congregation in worship, or integrate some new tech into your gatherings, check out Worship Leader School where I have a complete course library, a dedicated online forum where you can connect with other worship leaders and weekly office hours which I host over Zoom video, for you to get some real time help. 

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