First Third Conversations

Finding Advent Rhythms

A blog post by Ben McDonald Coltvet

Image Credit: Advent Terminus - Happy Holiday 5 by Stuart Dootson on Flickr

Free time: It's one thing that easily gets "lost in the holidays" in my household. Time to play, time to be a family, time to be alone, time to sleep.

With all the schedules and commitments that overlap at the end of the year, it's easy to feel like our family's calendar is out of control.

How does this happen? Is it a result of poor planning or too much planning? Both?

One gift that our family received last year was being introduced to the Advent family devotions by Rolf Jacobson and the people of St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

At the start of Advent 2012, they hosted an intergenerational gathering where families turned 4-foot pieces of lumber into huge candelabras for Advent. We sanded wood, drilled holes, painted and decorated the yule logs and then placed one candle for every day (not week!) leading up to Christmas.

Rolf Jacobson, a member of the congregation who's also a professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, shared his family's Advent devotional practice. "Snacks with fire" is how he sums it up.

Each evening, the household gathers around snacks (crackers, cookies, etc…) and sings Gracia Grindal's hymn, We Light the Advent Candles, while one person lights a candle for each day of Advent, in alternating order so that the candle that's lit on Christmas Eve (i.e., the final candle) is in the center.

Once the candles are lit, one person reads a brief Scripture passage and the group responds by singing Advent or Christmas hymns. Next, each person shares a high and a low from the day, and one person prays for the group, offering words of thanksgiving and intercession based on what's been shared.

Finally, before the candles are extinguished, each person receives a blessing from another: "You are marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever."

It's a simple ritual that our kids love, because they can participate in every part of it. Not just the fire and snacks, but the prayers, the highs and lows, the blessing. It's all good.

It might seem that this routine is too elaborate to accommodate an already jammed schedule -- it requires everyone sitting down in the living room, lighting candles, stopping all other activities, etc. And when that happens, it's very good.

But what happens when pageant rehearsals, cookie decorating parties, or dance recitals cut into our evening family time? We've found this year that even when we can't do the whole Advent devotions that we can incorporate the bare bones -- singing, sharing highs and lows, praying -- while we're in the car.

And it's also flexible enough that guests can join in as well -- underscoring the Advent themes of providing hospitality and looking for moments of grace in unexpected places.

It's surprising to realize how strong the tug of those routines becomes once you get started, and how they can provide a moment of calm in the flurry of activities.

What routines keep your circle of family/friends grounded at this time of year?

BenAuthor Bio:
Ben McDonald Coltvet has worked at Luther Seminary since 2011, managing content and strategy for the seminary's resource websites (,,, and Prior to that, he served digital media manager at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's churchwide organization in Chicago. He loves time with his family, cross-country skiing, and reading big novels.

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