“I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it. I have other plans on the calendar.”

It’s an ordinary exchange between friends throughout the year, a response that occurs more frequently in December given holiday parties, concerts, and family gatherings. Most people understand and respect the need for boundaries with personal and family calendars, especially in December.

But what if you established boundaries in your December schedule for a different purpose than pacing yourself for dozens of social gatherings?

What would a December calendar shaped by Advent spiritual disciplines look like?

(Note: To learn more about Advent and how to observe it at home with family and friends, read this book!)

Sanctifying Personal and Family Calendars in Advent

In my previous post on the differences between Advent and Lent, I suggested that Advent, in particular, calls us to examine how we live in time, given our faith that Christ will return at the end of days.

The Day of the Lord is a recurring theme in scripture readings throughout the four Sundays of Advent. Anglican liturgy and lectionary readings train us to sanctify all our days, not just Sundays, in preparation for Christ’s return.

But given the busyness of December in America, it’s much more difficult to practice spiritual disciplines in Advent. In some ways, practicing repentance and fasting in Lent is easier than Advent. There isn’t the cultural frenzy of social gatherings and shopping in the season before Easter.

Advent requires even more vigilance and practical planning to observe the scriptural callings of watchfulness, repentance, and fasting. That’s where Advent calendar fasting creates space for worship even in the busiest month of the year.

What is a Calendar Fast?

As the practice of fasting developed over the centuries, our spiritual sages encouraged other forms of fasting than abstaining from food alone. The practice of solitude is a form of fasting—abstaining from words and conversation for the sake of listening to God’s voice. Saints have also practiced a “fast of the eyes” in the spirit of Psalm 119.37: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

A calendar fast is a form of fasting regarding personal time.

Instead of pursuing your desires for a day or a week; instead of succumbing to social pressures on your time, even by friends and family, calendar fasting means abstaining from some appointments and engagements to create more space for worship.

If we truly believe worship of God is primary and all other commitments are secondary, then our calendars will reflect that conviction. Even in December.

Embrace Small Beginnings

If you’re inspired to practice this form of fasting in time this Advent, I suggest a modest beginning. It’s unwise to impose a complete overhaul to your schedule. There is no crash course in any form of fasting—dietary, sensory, temporal, or otherwise. Ambitious fasting plans often end in discouragement.

Instead, embrace small beginnings. Small beginnings are biblical! God spoke through Zechariah that the small beginnings of rebuilding the Temple would bring joy (Zechariah 4.9-10). So also with ‘rebuilding’ personal and family calendars for the sake of worship.

How Do I Practice an Advent Calendar Fast?

So what does this look like in practice? Open your December calendar and begin writing “Advent Worship” throughout the month.

Sundays

Sundays come first. Write “Advent Worship” for each of the four Sundays in Advent.

Commit to attending worship at your church every Sunday in the Advent season. Write the same for special services such as Lessons and Carols.

Weekdays

Next, look at your daily calendar. Consider a space in each day to write “Advent Worship.” The duration may be 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or longer. You might have two slots on your daily calendar with shorter durations for Advent worship (15-20 minutes each).

The main point is that you undertake what you can observe for four weeks. Stretch yourself a bit, but remember the wisdom of small beginnings.

The Daily Office

If you’re looking for a simple beginning for Advent Worship, I encourage you to begin praying the Daily Office.

If you’re entirely new to the Daily Office or Advent disciplines; if praying twice a day is an unrealistic beginning, I suggest you begin praying Evening Prayer only. More than any other time of day, the evening hours symbolize the spiritual themes of Advent—watching and waiting.

(To access the Anglican Pastor Daily Office Booklet, click here.)

The Anglican theologian Martin Thornton believed a family could observe worship and mealtimes in this way:

  • Pray Evening Prayer: 7:10-7:30
  • Evening Meal: 7:30

Adjust those times and order for your personal or family schedule. But notice the wisdom and freedom from one of our best spiritual theologians: you can pray Evening Prayer in an unhurried way in 20 minutes.

For families, I think Advent worship certainly can involve Advent wreath or Jesse Tree devotions, as well. I encourage the Advent wreath be included in the scripture portion of the ACNA’s Family Prayer, but the point is that Advent Worship need not take long.

As the Anglican divine, Jeremy Taylor, said, “I would rather you pray often than long.”

Advent Retreat

Another form of calendar fasting in Advent could be a personal retreat. Again, if you’re receiving the wisdom of small beginnings, both the duration and frequency will be small.

Write Advent Retreat in your calendar, which may only be an hour, maybe 30 minutes. Retreats don’t need to be overnight or away from your hometown. Retreats happen in any place and time when we seek the presence of God in solitude.

The purpose of an Advent retreat is fasting from busyness and noise to listen to the voice of God; to examine good questions such as ‘am I honoring God with the time he’s given me?’

An Advent retreat might simply be a small window of time to take a walk, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Local parks and hiking trails are wonderful places for in-town retreats. Go to your local church in the middle of the week and enjoy the solitude and quiet of an empty nave.

A Glimpse of Eternity Now

On Christmas Eve, we will hear the story of Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem, finding no room in the inn where the Christ child could be born. We hear the call in song and sermon to make room for Christ in our hearts.

Yet overcrowded calendars may turn Christ away, too. Advent prepares us for his holy coming so that not only our hearts, but our very days and hours are not overcrowded with the things of this world.

Advent prepares us to experience the beauty and glory of God that is the deepest longing of our hearts.