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An “All of the Above” Advent

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Our culture approaches the month of December with several competing narratives. Among others:

There’s the “Christmas Cheer” narrative, where December is a month to be happy, joyful, celebratory, going from party to party and giving and receiving gifts amidst calls of “Merry Christmas”.

There’s the “At My Wits End” stress narrative, where the month is one unbroken string of adding social engagements, harried shopping, hosting extended family, and house decorating on top of schedule that was already crammed full in November without all the extra responsibilities.

There’s the “It’s All Fake” narrative, where the merry making just papers over the depression and dysfunction and pain that’s right under the surface. I think of any number of Christmas movies depicting the family dysfunction at the heart of some Christmas “celebrations” or It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey before Clarence the angel intervenes.

And, of course, there’s the “Reason for the Season” narrative, where Advent is a time to push all distractions aside to bask in the reality of Immanuel, God with us. Peace on earth and all the holy accompaniments.

While there are certainly those who love everything about the run-up to Christmas, who connect deeply with the first or last of the above narratives, many of us find Advent more complicated, disorienting, stressful, even sad than we feel like it “should be”. We ought to be joyful; we ought to push away distractions; we ought to focus on Jesus, and love, and peace, and all that holy stuff, right?

But then real life returns, and we think of the obligations we have to fulfill, the person who isn’t going to be sitting around the Christmas tree this year, the to-do list that doesn’t go away, the pain that keeps nipping at our stockings. What are we to do with Advent? Which narrative is true?

What if the answer was all of the above? What if the distractions and holiness and pain and joy and stress and peace were all supposed to be wrapped up into one narrative, instead of us having to choose? What if God intended Advent to be a part of our real, complicated lives each year, instead of a fake imitation? What if the rough edges of our Decembers weren’t things to be sanded away?

We hope you’ll join us this Advent on December 4th and 11th as we explore how we can celebrate Advent authentically and deeply while still in the midst of the real world. After all, Christmas is the story of the joyful birth of our Savior…in the midst of donkey and sheep manure.

Many blessings,

Advent Celebration on December 13th, 2015

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The Chapel.


On Sunday night, December 13th, the Practice community gathered together for our first ever Advent Celebration. After a time of dessert, coffee, and gallons of egg nog — because nothing helps you prepare for contemplation like sugar and caffeine (ha!) — we entered the Willow chapel in holy expectation that Immanuel would guide us deeply into reverent reflection and joy-filled celebration. God did exactly that. Hallelujah.

Instead of retelling the experience, we decided to simply post the full recording and printed liturgy. Other than cutting out the 5 minutes of silence and 10 minutes of communion, it’s simply an unedited recording of what happened that night. We hope this helps you get a sense of the journey we went on…and even enables you to experience it too.

Grace and peace in this Advent season.

Download Advent Celebration Liturgy

Listen to the night…


*All photos by Eric Niequist*

Advent Sunday Reflections, December 6, 2015: Crowding Out Christ

By | Advent, Sunday Messages, Sunday Reflections, The Practice Podcast | One Comment



“God disrupts everything.”

So said our prophetic brother Jonathan Martin. And wow, could we use some disruption right now. Fear is, indeed, in the air. Most of us could list a dozen things to be afraid of in our current global climate (including, well, the climate). Most of us could probably do so in less than a minute.

The normal, un-disrupted logic of fear plays out all around us these days. The violence and chaos of the world cause people to look around frantically for ways to get things back under control. The seductively obvious solution is to meet violence with more violence. To fight fear with force. This is the logic that calls for more bombs. This is the logic that caused the president of a prominent evangelical university to call this week for his students to start carrying guns “so we could end those Muslims” before they harm us.

But our liturgy last night kept highlighting the Advent promise of freedom from fear. Our opening gospel readings found the angels telling the shepherds not to be afraid and Zechariah proclaiming that Jesus would rescue us so we could serve God without fear. The songs we sang proclaimed the greatness of our Joy and that we would not be afraid because of God’s presence. Our prayers were made to the Prince of Peace who offers us an alternative to fear. We passed the peace to one another. And, of course, Jonathan Martin asked us to ponder the question of what fear we need to let go of so we might prepare room in our hearts for Christ. Take a listen to the podcast here:

Two thousand years ago God made his ultimate response to the chaos and violence of the world. Many in that day expected a response of power (after all, who is better able to power-up than God?). That was the expectation of John the Baptist, as Jonathan pointed out. But Christmas isn’t the celebration of the victory of a military commander, driving the enemies of God before him; it’s the celebration of the birth of a baby to a poor family in an out-of-the-way town.

Jonathan told us the story of Ananias, who acted out of faith to extend words of friendship to an enemy of God, Saul.   How could that be? Where does one find the strength to do such an irrational thing?

One could, perhaps, look to the story of Christmas, where God himself extended friendship to his enemies. Us.

God, at Christmas, chose not the road of power but the road of love. He disrupted everything, and promises to do the same for us, if we’ll allow it.

And that is what the practice Aaron led us through, of Examen, offers. Fear is all around us. We find ourselves receiving from our culture a “residual fear”, as Jonathan put it. It can slip in and permeate our thinking without us even realizing it. And so we stop to examine our hearts. We open up our thoughts, and our fear, to God’s light. And God, who disrupted a broken, fearful world with words of friendship, disrupts our broken, fearful hearts with whispers of love.

Come, Lord Jesus, disrupt everything.

Curtis Miller and The Practice Team

Advent at The Practice

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We all want to make room for Christ to move in and through our lives, but it’s easy to let the busyness of this season and the intensity of world events crowd Him out. Isn’t it painfully ironic how often we miss Christ because of the busy Christmas season? But we don’t have to! Advent invites us into another way. Let us explore how to practice it together….

December 6th – An Advent Examen
December 13th – An Advent Celebration

Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin

On Sunday, December 6th, we’ll ask the question: “What is crowding Christ out of my heart in this season, and how can I begin to let it go?” The first step of making room for Christ is naming what is currently in the way. Fear? Ambition? Busyness? Unforgiveness?  In the prophetic spirit of John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ, our friend Jonathan Martin will invite us deeply into these questions. In fact, he’ll remind us that God turned a religious terrorist (Saul) into the greatest Christian apostle (Paul) through the courageous grace of someone (Ananias) who let go of his fear and let Christ flow through him. This story has so much to teach us today. And then we’ll spend some time practicing an “Advent Examen” and let God speak and lead us. May this be a night of beauty, truth, and holy freedom.


Becky Ykema

Sunday, December 13th, will be a full Advent Celebration. We’ll go on a journey of scripture, practice, prayer, and a ton of music through the whole Christmas story, and celebrate the God who has not given up on this world. After diving deeply into an Advent Examen the week before, we’ll bring our freshly opened hearts to Emmanuel and celebrate all the ways God wants to fill us for the sake of the world. Please join us! (One more thing: Great friend of the Practice, Becky Ykema, is flying back from Colorado to join our worship team this night. Can’t wait!)


[And then we will be off until Sunday, January 10th.]


Please don’t miss these next two weeks, friends. 6pm in the Willow Creek Chapel. We’re excited to explore the depth and beauty of Advent with you all….

Grace and peace,


Advent Resources

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Weeks of Advent

Greetings Practice Tribe!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the global church’s historic four week practice of Advent – the season of the church calendar in which we anticipate the coming of the Messiah and pause to remember that through what took place in Christ’s incarnation – God is with us.

When it comes to the church calendar, for most of us, Advent is the part we’re most familiar with. Some of you, like me, may have grown up with chocolate Advent calendars, counting down the days to Christmas in anticipation of Jesus’ birth by trying not to eat all 25 chocolates on day one… Some of you may have engaged in Advent reading plans or practices to build in anticipation and align with this historic story through scripture readings, lighting candles, special worship services, or serving projects. And for some of you, Advent may feel completely foreign and new – the four weeks leading up to Christmas feeling disconnected from the day itself, overwhelmed by shopping, family, and travel.

However you may have engaged Advent in the past, we hope that you will join with us in our Advent Practice this year as we align with the Church Calendar over the next four weeks in the hope that every heart would prepare room for our Messiah, Jesus Christ.

This Advent season, The Practice will be exploring the theme, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room.” Because ultimately – this is what Advent is all about, a time to anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ! We can’t wait for you to see what we have in store for you all on December 6 & 13 – but because Sunday is not the main event we are also excited to point you to he following resources to aid you in your practice of Advent every day this season.

There is a wide variety of reading plans, music, books and movements to connect you to – so our team narrowed it down to our favorites. Please find below our top 5 Advent daily devotionals (most are free!), recommended books, blogs, and websites to check out as you prepare room in your heart for Christ.

Happy Advent,


Jenna & The Practice Team


The Advent Project

Sign up for  or visit The Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts’ daily popular Advent Project, an online resource with scripture, devotionals, art, video, and music — as we remember the mystery of the incarnation and the Word made flesh.

You can sign up to receive their daily e-mails on their website or by clicking here.

Who is it for?

We recommend this devotional for the artists among us who come alive through engagement with the visual arts and a variety of music. This devotional is also wonderful for those of you who learn best through a variety of voices and mediums.

Advent Reflections

by Ruth Haley Barton & The Transforming Center

This beautiful 16 page booklet with antique engravings is designed to help congregations, small groups, spiritual friends, and individuals walk through the four Sundays of Advent together. A perfect tool to introduce people to the practice of following the lectionary through the seasons of the Church year, this book contains Scripture references for each Sunday of Advent through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C), a guided meditation, questions for reflection, and a prayer that draws the reader into the themes of Advent. Questions can be used for group discussion or personal reflection.

Who is it for?

We recommend this devotional for those of you seeking to align closer with the practice of reading along with the lectionary through the Church Calendar – and for any of you who enjoy the wonderful work and writings of Ruth Haley Barton.

A longer reflection entitled “Training in Waiting” provides instruction on the purpose and value of engaging the season of Advent for spiritual transformation along with practical instructions on how to make the most of this resource.

Advent Devotional

by A.J. Sherill & TGC Chelsea

“Advent calls us to delayed gratification, a season of holy longing as we anticipate something/one better. So may we learn to wait on the Lord, with joyous expectation.”

A.J. and his church TGC Chelsea have created a beautiful and free Advent Devotional pdf. you can download and work through this Advent season. They invite you to take part in three formative spiritual practices as we wait upon the Christmas light together. Even as we disperse from Sundays, we join each other in Spirit throughout the week, united in these shared traditions:

     • The reading of Scripture (via Daily Office)
• Journaling what God is revealing
• Prayer through the themes of advent

Who is this for?

This devotional is theologically rich and will appeal to those among us who love to journal and read from Church Fathers, Reformers and great writers of Church History.

Born Is The King

by She Reads Truth

She Reads Truth started as a small group of strangers on the internet who wanted to be more intentional about reading God’s Word. What began as a casual conversation is now an entire community of women all over the world in pursuit of Jesus. Their mission is to invite the already-reached to reach for their Bibles—every day.

In Part I (weeks 1-3), you will learn how Jesus is the true Hero of the Old Testament—the true & better Adam, the true & better Joseph, the true & better manna, and so much more. Every story points to the birth of our King!

In Part II (week 4), you will read the Christmas narrative, viewing each part of the story through the lens of God’s Story—the redemption of His people through Jesus Christ, the Promised One, Immanuel, Messiah, King.

Who is it for?

Whilst She Reads Truth is a Bible Study/Devotional Ministry geared towards women, their content is beautifully designed and engaging for all. This devotional is great for the tech savvy among you who would like to download their app and read along with their devotional each day from your smart device.



Advent Liturgies by Willow Creek Artists

November 28, 2015

The Brilliance: Advent Vol. 1

November 28, 2015

She Reads Truth

November 24, 2015

CCCA Advent Project

November 24, 2015

The Advent Conspiracy

November 24, 2015