Advent Pitfalls, Promises, and Preparation
Advent is a time of joy, cheer, eggnog, Christmas lights, and if you’re a worship leader, lots of planning meetings, creative brainstorming, the crafting of sets which appeal to the folks that attend a couple of times a year, and more times than not, a desire for “normal” songs by the end of the Christmas season. When we plan for advent there are both great opportunities as well as potential pitfalls
From a young age, many of us have been indoctrinated into the traditions that the Christmas season brings: picking out a Christmas tree, singing carols, attending a candlelight service, or eagerly awaiting Christmas morning to see what presents may be under the tree. Netflix alone released 56 new Christmas movies in 2019. Statistics show that Americans spent over $1 trillion during the Christmas season in 2019. Our culture loves the season of Christmas. Our churches love the season of Christmas. For those who work at a church (or lead in a volunteer capacity), we have many meetings regarding how we can best decorate our worship centers for Advent, what themes we want to focus on, and how many nostalgic Christmas carols we can throw into a set.
However, in the midst of all of this planning, we can nail the nostalgia but miss Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the season – He’s not someone to use for a catchy slogan like “Jesus is the reason for the season”. He actually is the reason we’re able to gather with true joy, freedom, and rest. There’s the potential that we can lead our congregations to subconsciously believe there is more joy to be found in this season than on a mundane Monday in June.
The Scriptures tell us “there is fullness of joy in His presence” (Psalm 16:11). Worship Leader, we must be mindful of where our hearts are during Advent planning. Are we wanting our congregation to leave loving this season or are we wanting them to leave loving the King who came and dwelt among us? If we’re not careful, there’s a serious potential of glorifying the season over the Savior. Our people don’t need to recall their favorite Christmas songs; they need to recall the promised King who has come and is coming again!
Our goal during this Advent season should be to point our people to the promises made by the Promised One in the Word. The prophets foretold the coming of a King who would put an end to the tyranny of evil, a King who wouldn’t just be a transcendent ruler but one who would come near to us in human flesh: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). The promise of Jesus’s birth is huge – the birth that brought death to death. And yet, if the story ended here, we’d be in trouble.
Think of one of the biggest stories of our generation: Harry Potter. Would the story be complete if the culmination of the story ended with Harry being born to Lily and James Potter? While Harry’s birth was foretold to be the demise of Voldemort, it was not his birth that accomplished this. In the same way, while Jesus’s birth fulfilled the promise foretold in Isaiah, it is not the final culmination of the coming promise! We need to view God’s promises in light of the entirety of Scripture. The God who promised to dwell among us in the flesh is the same God who has promised to dwell among us again for eternity, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). The First Advent is only worth celebrating if we’re looking forward to the promised Second Advent!
Recalling God’s promises allow us Worship Leaders to intentionally prepare, craft, and execute holistic sets during the Advent season. When I plan sets during Advent, I work to put the whole story of Scripture before our team and congregation on a weekly basis. At my church, we aim to tell the whole story of Christ’s redemptive work throughout the entire flow of the Sunday gathering, including–but not limited to–song selection.
Remember, our hope should be to remind our people of the whole story, not just one chapter. A good metric to use when thinking through songs or liturgies is the four movements of Scripture: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Below are some examples of how this might manifest in a corporate gathering:
Worship Leader, we have an opportunity this Advent to exalt the Savior over the trappings of the season. While many things may be changing during this time, Christ’s care for His Church has remained steady, faithful, and ever-present. Let’s be quick to see and remember the whole story of Scripture. Many visitors will attend your church during this season and what they need is not a journey down memory lane singing their favorite Christmas carols; what they need is to clearly see a King who is worthy of eternal praise and adoration. May we be leaders who are mindful of the potential pitfalls the season brings, who are quick to recall the promises throughout the Scripture, and who are intentional with the words we put on our people’s lips until the day He returns in His glorious Second Advent!