Advent is a wonderful time for reflection and devotion as believers look forward to Christmas and its significance for our faith. UrbanFaith had the opportunity to have a Q & A session with Katara Washington Patton, the author of Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional. The exchange is below, edited for clarity.
It is so good to have you share with UrbanFaith again and your new and relevant book. Advent is a great opportunity to reflect, be inspired, and deepen our relationship with God and others, so I’m grateful for your book.
1. A lot of people are not as familiar with Advent as some of the other major holidays such as Christmas and Easter. What is Advent and why is it important for believers?
Advent is the period leading up to the observance of our Savior’s birth–Christmas; Advent is observed during the four weeks before Christmas and normally begins the last Sunday of November. Advent means to anticipate the coming of Christ (remembering how people anticipated His birth and how we anticipate His second coming).
2. What inspired you to write a book of devotionals for this holiday season?
I love devotionals; they have been one of my main sources of growth. They are shorter readings you can do mostly every day, which increases your faith through reading and reflecting on Scripture. So, whenever I’m given the opportunity—as I was by my publisher with this book—I jump at the chance to write material that can help people grow in faith. This one particularly is for the entire family…so adults and children can learn from it.
3. You were very intentional at making this a FAMILY devotional, why is that important to you?
We know Family can mean…grandmother and child, two parents and children, auntie, uncle, big sister, etc. So I like the fact that families—whatever your definition is—can center themselves around a scripture and reading and explore its meaning, have activities to do. This can be done alone as well but it is written at a level children will understand too. I think that’s important…for my family, my child has a different Christian education than I did. I went to Sunday school every Sunday because my mom was the superintendent and my dad a teacher; today, pre-pandemic, my child was in a class at church maybe once a month or so (due to several reasons like the format of classes at our church); and now with the changes due to capacity limits and the pandemic, she’s not in a class. Where does she learn those fundamental lessons we learned? In family devotions, I hope and pray.
4. I love the format of your devotions, why did you decide to include activities as well as the traditional prayer and Scripture inspirations?
I’ve always been a person who looks at learning and even ministry from a practical stand point. If I can’t apply this lesson to my life, then it’s just words. Activities help reinforce the application of the lesson. I’m always going to look for a way to bring home the point through activities.
5. How has choosing devotion during Advent and Christmas impacted your faith journey?
I loved rediscovering many of the stories I selected: Jesus’ genealogy, Simeon and Anna, even Noah and the rainbow, Elizabeth and Mary, even Abigail and David– all to drive home the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. I think we need to tell these stories over and over again to remind ourselves and to teach our children of the goodness of God and the amazing faith journey we have been presented with as we journey ourselves. Utilizing these devotions can also help us connect the faith stories within the Bible to our own faith story based on our belief in our savior’s birth.
6. What advice would you give to our audience who may be trying to grow in their faith?
Other than read my books?! Lol. Honestly, read your Bible and supplemental material of your choosing faithfully. If you find one devotional or book isn’t giving you enough or inspiring you to read regularly, find another. There are so many different formats we can utilize for Bible reading and devotions that you can find something that is speaking to you in the moment. Being consistent is key. I enjoy waking up and having that time with God; I understand it may be car time for another or bed time or lunch time for others—but the consistent practice of carving out that time to study, reflect, and pray has been my saving grace.
Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional is available everywhere books are sold.
Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season observed by many Christians as a period of waiting and preparation for the Nativity of Jesus. This season begins four Sundays before Christmas and concludes on Christmas. The hanging of greens, adorning sanctuaries and wearing vestments of purple, and lighting the Advent wreath candles in order to move from darkness to light are key components in Advent observation. All of this is in anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, a birth that people anxiously awaited then and a symbolic birth we should anxiously await now. But some may ask, “Why must we wait for something that has already happened? Why exist in symbolic darkness for a time in order to celebrate that which was revealed some 2000 years ago? Why is this relevant to our time?” I suggest that we must wait in order to reclaim the wonder of the light that was brought into this world.
Earlier this year, during an Ash Wednesday service at a large Baptist church, I looked forward to ushering in the season of penitence with somber worship and a penitent message. Ash Wednesday is supposed to remind us of our finitude and it plunges us into a season of penitence, and the journey into the wilderness with Christ. But as I sat in that Ash Wednesday service, I was jolted from somber reflection with songs of joy and a sermon celebrating victory. Not a moment in the service–besides the impartation of ashes which concluded the service–was spent ushering people into the dry season ahead of them because the church couldn’t not praise. On one hand I understood the church’s inability to squelch their praise. It’s a church that has seen many trials and tribulation and its membership are a part of the resilient race in this country who can’t not praise because of how far they’ve come by faith. Why would they want to launch themselves into a period solemnity? But on the other hand, I desired for this congregation to withhold their praise and shouts of victory in order to rightfully claim it at the end of the Lenten season. In doing this, they would truly walk with their redeemer and taste the sweetness of victory because they had made the journey by way of symbolically situating themselves on Ash Wednesday as sojourners with Jesus. This too is our call during the season of Advent except that we are not sojourners with Jesus this time around but sojourners with a generation of people who were awaiting his arrival. People who heard a particular prophecy about the coming of Jesus and who were waiting and preparing for his arrival. People who didn’t have Christmas gift shopping, parties to attend, and a plethora of “holiday” distractions, but who were watching and waiting for him. I imagine that their wait was one of wonder mixed with skepticism fueled by the rumors of Mary, a virgin, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit with the son of God. How unbelievable that had to be then and how unbelievable we should consider it now in order to rekindle the wonder of it all. Awesome wonder is what this season is about.
Yesterday in church I was reminded of how in danger we are of losing that wonder because we are so familiar with the stories that tell of the coming of Jesus. Some of us know it like the back of our hands and it has become so commonplace that the narrative of a young virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to the son of God seems just as plausible as a man getting pregnant and giving birth. Some of us are no longer moved by the story because we’ve spent years with it in our churches, in our seminaries and Bible colleges, and in our homes, but we force ourselves to be moved just a few days before Christmas because that’s what we’ve been trained most to do. Many wind down and reflect as they start to wrap up their Christmas shopping, place the last few gifts under the tree, and bake the last batch of cookies. A reflection on the true significance of this moment on the Christian liturgical calendar is sometimes left as an afterthought to what is given top billing on the calendar of capitalism. But we must wait, and wait longer than a few days, to acclimate ourselves to the coming of Jesus. When we take hold of the season of waiting that Advent is, we give ourselves the opportunity to experience the wonder of every occasion that lead up to the birth of Jesus.
When we read the Gospel narratives that foretell of Jesus’ birth, of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, of the Magnificat, we must stop ourselves from breezing through it quickly because we’ve heard it all before. Instead we should be held captive by every word as if we were hearing it for the first time and as if we may never hear it again. When we repeat the refrain, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear,” we are implicating ourselves as those in captivity in need of a release from our self-imposed exile. Given the capitalism and consumerism that has marked this season—and the violence it has wrought—we are now, more than ever, in the need of the discipline of waiting. We must wait in order to restore the wonder of this blessed season we are in, a season that shines light into dark places and gives many hope. We must wait, not only for ourselves but for every person who has yet to experience the great hope that many of us know so well. We must wait so that we refresh ourselves in the wondrous love to come over receiving it as an entitlement that we might take for granted. We must wait, because in waiting we are forced to slow down, and in slowing down we gain perspective on the significance of this season which brings us back to wonder. The awesome wonder of the coming of Jesus is what this season is about, just wait for it.