Advent Sermon Inspiration to Help You Discover New Themes

 Inspiration for advent sermon themes from Backstory Preaching. Image of red advent candle.
The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pithy sentences like this one by Dietrich Bonhoeffer take me aback, beg me to consider the layers of truth and implication buried within the words.

They force me to slow down and re-examine what I thought I understood.

What does it mean to be troubled in soul? Who knows themselves to be poor and imperfect? How do these un-coveted conditions help us celebrate Advent?

There’s a lot to unpack here, which is why I love reading quotations.

Quotations help me think of familiar concepts and events in new ways.

With Advent around the corner, you may be wondering if you’ll have anything new to say in your Advent sermons this year.

Is it possible to find new insights in a season you’ve celebrated and preached many times before?

Yes! And we hope this collection of Advent quotations will help.

We’ve put together a roundup of Advent-themed Scripture, quotations, and wisdom to help preachers engage this season in new ways.

Consider the insights of others to discover themes and ideas for your Advent preaching.

How to Use these Quotations for Your Advent Sermons

Assume the posture of Mary by pondering in your heart the wisdom that arrives from unexpected sources.

If you’d appreciate some structure in your pondering, consider praying Lectio Divina on the quotations, much as you would with Scripture. The process might look like this:

  • Lectio. Read the text slowly, carefully, and out loud. Notice each word.

  • Meditatio. Wrestle with the text. What is affirming? Comforting? Dis-comforting? Ask questions about the word choices and context. What do you suppose was the author’s intention? What does the quote mean to you?

  • Oratio. Express how the words are reshaping your heart and mind. Do some free writing. For instance, finish the thought: “If this were true, then….”

  • Contemplatio. Sit quietly with God in gratitude.

In the company of these wise words, pray about how you can move through Advent.

Apply your discoveries to your own life and perhaps to your sermons. This wisdom might be just what your listeners need to hear.

Here’s a sampling of the Advent themes and ideas you’ll find in the collection.

Encountering

Scripture helps us grapple with the mystery of God who is both with us and still to come. Consider I Thessalonians: 5:4-11 (NRSV):

You, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

How might we build each other up to stay awake as we hope and yearn for salvation?

Noticing

We notice the mystery in the holy details of ordinary days. Consider the experience of Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

When we handle the sick and the needy we touch the suffering body of Christ and this touch will make us heroic; it will make us forget the repugnance and natural tendencies in us. We need the eyes of deep faith to see Christ in the broken body and dirty clothes under which the beautiful one among us hides. We shall need the hands of Christ to touch these bodies wounded by pain and suffering.

Where do you notice the suffering body of Christ? Where is the wholeness of Christ to be found in the broken, the ailing, and the grieving?

Preparing

We prepare our minds, hearts, and actions so we’re ready to encounter the mystery of Christ when he comes to us now and later on. One way to prepare for Christ is to be vigilant, ever watching for his arrival, as Gabe Huck suggests:

A character in one of J.D. Salinger’s short stories says that the most important word in the Bible is “watch.” That person would love Advent and especially the gospel: “Be on the watch! Stay awake! Watch with a sharp eye! Look around you! Be on guard!” Why would “watch” be anyone’s favorite notion? How do we watch? What are we watching for? Take the question to Isaiah, take it to a saint you have known and one you wish you had known.

What would help us stay awake and watch?

Who, indeed?

Waiting

We get ready—and then we wait. But not passively as Pierre Teilhard deChardin implores of us:

Historically speaking, that expectation has never ceased to guide the progress of our faith like a torch. We persist in saying that we keep vigil in expectation of the Master. But in reality we should have to admit, if we were sincere, that we no longer expect anything. The flame must be revived at all costs. At all costs we must renew in ourselves the desire and the hope for the great coming. But where are we to look for the source of this rejuvenation? From the perception of a more intimate connection between the victory of Christ and the outcome of the work which our human effort here below is seeking to construct.

Do you expect Christ’s return? Does your flame need to be revived? If so, what cost are you willing to pay? What cost is your church community willing to pay?

Magnifying

While we wait, since there is literally nothing better to do, we can magnify the Lord. Consider this from John. L. McKenzie:

Apocalypse is the cry of the helpless, who are borne passively by events which they cannot influence, much less control. The cry of the helpless is often vindictive, expressing impotent rage at reality. Apocalyptic rage is a flight from reality, a plea to God to fulfill their wishes and prove them right and the other wrong. Apocalyptic believers could hardly think the saying "Go, make disciples of all nations" was addressed to them. Had apocalyptic believers dominated the church since the first century, there would have been no missions to unbelievers, no schools, no hospitals, no orphanages, no almsgiving. The helpless cannot afford to think of such enterprises; they can only await the act of God, and then complain because that act is so long delayed. The gospels and epistles rather tell the believers that they are the act of God.

How might you and your community magnify the Lord and make him known while you wait?

Advent has been marked as a special season for centuries, and there is much wisdom to gain from those who have written about it.

Download this collection of Advent wisdom and begin your own process of discovery

Endnotes

deChardin, Pierre Teilhard. The Time of the Spirit, Readings through the Christian Year. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984.

Huck, Gabe. Quoted in An Advent Sourcebook. Liturgy Training Publications (Chicago, 1988), p. 23.

McKenzie, John. The New Testament without Illusion. The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1982.

Teresa of Calcutta. Jesus, the Word to be Spoken. Servant Publishers (Ann Arbor).