Illuminated Advent Path: An Intergenerational Kick-Off to the Christmas Season

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Walk the path...experience five unique stations to celebrate the promises of Advent and Christ’s birth.

This simple line invited community members in East Lansing, Mich. to an “Illuminated Advent Path” at River Terrace Church last December. What started as a one-hour children’s ministry event became a two-and-a-half-hour intergenerational Advent experience, as River Terrace folks strove to accommodate a line that overflowed into their parking lot.

Shalom Sonneveldt, who organized the event as a part of her role as Children’s Ministry Director at River Terrace, graciously shared how they organized this wonderful event. Here’s how they set up their Advent path:

They set the scene with a bonfire and hot cocoa station—wonderful additions for keeping away the cold night at this outdoor event. Families lined up at the beginning of the path, and the church’s volunteers released groups gradually to keep them well-spaced.

Once families entered the path, they moved through five different stations that introduced them to the five candles of the Advent wreath: hope, joy, peace, love, and Christ. Each station had a light element, and the paths were lined with luminary bags to emphasize the light of this season throughout the experience. They also gave each group battery-operated lanterns to carry with them along the path.

At each of the five stations, participants read a Scripture passage (using their lantern), completed an activity, and prayed a prayer written by Ken Bieber, River Terrace’s pastor of outreach and discipleship. Volunteers hosted each station, helping to guide the groups through these activities. Here’s what was included in each of their stations (see attached pdf for printable versions of the scriptures and prayers):

Hope

  • Lights: soft white lights

  • Scripture: Psalm 62:5

  • Activity: Participants tied a white ribbon to a tree as they thought about how the Advent season of hope, preparing, and waiting is meaningful in their lives.

  • Prayer: My hope is in you, my Savior and my God. Please take all that I am, all that I have, and all that I can do, and use it for your glory, so that the light of Christ, the light of the world, will shine in my heart, and through my life. Amen.

Peace

  • Lights: large white twinkling lights 

  • Scripture: John 14:27

  • Activity: Participants hung a cardstock dove on a tree as a symbol of their willingness to be a peace-loving member of the church and society as a whole.

  • Prayer: God of peace, you who made peace between us and yourself through the gift of your Son, you who bless the peacemakers, may the fruit of your Holy Spirit work peace in my heart and in my life, so that, through my actions, through my words, through my treatment of others, Christ would be known in this world. In the name of the one who made peace between us and you, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Joy

  • Lights: colorful blinking lights

  • Scripture: Psalm 65:8

  • Activity: Each participant selected a glow-stick necklace to wear, which they joyfully cracked to make it glow. They were also given a votive candle with information about River Terrace’s Advent and Christmas services to give to someone else in outreach, the idea being to share the joy of Christmas.

  • Prayer: God of all goodness, may all the world know that the joy that you give is not a momentary feeling of happiness. May you work the fruit of joy in my heart, so that my neighbor would know the reality of new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love

  • Lights: White lights on the trees, also votive lights

  • Scripture: 1 John 3:1

  • Activity: A large piece of plywood on the ground had a subtle heart outline painted on it. Each person lit a votive light (battery operated) and placed it on the heart. Eventually the heart was filled with everyone’s candles of love, showing that we are all a part of God’s love.

  • Prayer: Heavenly Father, we can only love you because you have first loved us. Thank you for your costly love shown in the gift of your Son. Thank you for your effective love made real in our hearts by the work of your Holy Spirit. Help us to love and serve one another as your Son has taught us. Amen.

Christ/Christmas

  • Lights: glowing creche under a large illuminated star

  • Scripture: Luke 2:10b-12

  • Activity: Participants were given large battery-operated pillar candles as they approached this station, which they held as they sang a verse of Silent Night along with a few members from the church’s choir.

  • Prayer: Thank you, loving and gracious God, for sending your Son to us, to be born of a woman, born as a baby, to be worshiped and adored, to teach us your ways, to give us the hope of eternal life, to make peace possible with you and with one another, to instill joy in our hearts, that we may honor and glorify you. Amen.

One of the best things about this event is the endless ways it could be adapted to fit various contexts. Groups could move throughout the church building or through different locations in your city. The lights could all be battery-operated if you didn’t have a way to plug things in, or you could replace the light features with something else if that wouldn’t work for your congregation. River Terrace held their event at the very beginning of December as a way to enter the Advent season, but something like this could really be done at any point in the Christmas season.

River Terrace had quite a few volunteers help with this event: office staff who helped to assemble things, a set-up and clean-up crew, individuals to help with the hot cocoa and fire, volunteers for each station as well as one at the beginning to stagger groups, and at the end to run supplies (like the lanterns) back to the beginning. But as churches make this event their own they could adapt things to require less volunteers, or Shalom suggested churches could ask families or small groups to take ownership of the different stations to remove some of the responsibility from the organizers.

The main elements of this event—preparing all generations for Advent and bringing deeper meaning to Advent themes—could be accomplished in a variety of ways. We hope that this event is a blessing to churches as they enter this season of hope, peace, joy, and love, celebrating the birth of Christ.

For more Advent resources check out the Advent and Christmas sections of the Family Faith Formation toolkit.

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