Advent: the anticipation of the coming of something important
Something important? How about something miraculous? I think that so often we treat Christmastime as just another season. There was a time when I even looked at Christmas as a burden! Oh my, how that hurts my heart to think about my attitude those years. I am so thankful that God showed me a better way. So today, I want to share it with you!
I think that there is a common misconception that Advent is specific to certain denominations, but that’s just not accurate. Unless of course, the Bible is specific to certain denominations! Ha! Advent is for everyone who wants to find a deeper meaning in the Christmas hustle and bustle, it’s for everyone who wants to grow in their relationship with God amidst the tinsel and lights, it’s for everyone who wants to find Jesus in Christmas again. Advent is a special time that we set aside to eagerly anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ, who was nothing short of a miracle to this sad, broken world. It’s absolutely worth the celebration.
At our house, Advent includes a daily Advent study (I’ll share some resources below). It also includes family traditions, making a “Jesse tree”, special prayer, sweet times of bonding as a family, fasting, giving to others, and making a concentrated effort to show the love of God to as many people as we possibly can.
When we make that intentional effort to focus in on Jesus, the materialism, the commercialism, the busyness of the season tends to melt away. Our kids might just think less about what they want themselves and more about what they can do for others. Maybe we will then be free to stop thinking about everyone’s Christmas lists and start thinking about what God is asking us to do this season.
So how can you focus in on Jesus this year? Here are a few ideas:
1. Do an Advent study with your family or on your own. Or do both! A quick Google search of “Advent Reading Schedule” will bring up more than enough options-believe me. For a family study, try to look for one that has short passages and starts with creation and goes through lots of the familiar Bible stories, showing how each story is connected to Jesus. It’s also great if the reading plan includes cute coloring pages. That’s a fantastic way to get the kids involved! Here are some options:
Truth in the Tinsel This is an excellent study for families with young children. We did this three years with our kids. It includes an ornament that you make for each day of Advent.
Thriving Family FREE Advent Study & Downloadable Calendar This is a FREE resource for families from a trusted source. Each day there is a reading guide with activities and you can print off a very cool Advent calendar.
For an Advent study for youself, look for something that focuses on the prophecies (very cool to study). This is one that I’m currently using and really enjoying.
2. Make a Jesse Tree. This is simply an extension of your Advent study. We are making a Jesse tree this year. And, no worries! This is FAR from fancy. Our “Jesse tree” consists of a ceramic pot with sticks that we found in our yard stuffed inside it. We hang the ornaments on the branches. Of course, you can use your Christmas tree or even a piece of construction paper! The idea of a Jesse tree is to trace the lineage of Jesus and see that salvation through Jesus Christ alone was God’s plan from the very beginning. Here are some resources for Jesse trees:
Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift
(Quick note: I am not quite prepared to endorse any of her other works, as I have not personally read them or reviewed them, but this one is an excellent resource for families)
Here are some examples of how simple or elaborate you can make your tree.
3. Advent Wreath. This is another way to “anticipate” the coming of something important! Each week, light another candle in the wreath until you get to the beautiful candle in the middle. That means that it’s Christmas-the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth!
4. Make a “Gifts We Already Have” List. To take the focus off of “I want”, keep a running list with your family of all the gifts that God has already given you. You might just be surprised at the length of this list, and you’ll certainly want to check it twice!
5. Fasting. Traditionally, fasting is considered an Easter thing…don’t worry I didn’t make a mistake. 🙂 But, Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for a special event, and fasting is a perfect way to do that. Fasting can come in lots of different ways. You can fast from television, from certain kinds of food, from technology (yikes!). Anything that you think might compete for the throne of your heart is an excellent thing to fast from during Advent season. It’s also a way to involve your whole family. Tell your whole family that you’ll be fasting from technology every Sunday this month. Maybe you’ll be fasting from that daily Sonic soda stop (donate the money you would spend to an organization that spreads the Gospel all over the world!).
6. Family Fun. Schedule some family fun time this month. More than presents, our kids want US…fully present. So, this month put a day on the calendar to go to a movie as a family, play a board game together, go caroling…do something fun!
7. Brainstorm ways to give to others. The holidays are a treasured time for many people, but those who are hurting for one reason or another find the holidays to be incredibly difficult. Sit down with your family and think of ways to reach out to these-to even the least of these-and show them Jesus this Christmas. Visit the nursing home (and keep going even after Christmas!), send a card to someone, give a gift card to someone on the side of the road, open your home to your neighbors. It may seem little to you…and maybe it is, but even little acts of love can mean a world of difference to someone.
Now, let me caution you…even Advent can become a burden if you’re not careful. That’s not the purpose. Always remember the purpose of Advent is to set your heart on eagerly anticipating the coming of a miracle-the birth of Jesus. If you’d like to participate in Advent this year, pray about what God would have you to do this year. A good place to start is teaching your kids the meaning of Advent, and remind yourself often. When you say this definition to yourself, it’s like a cool, refreshing waterfall to your soul. From there, try to do a family time (maybe you can only get together once a week-there are Advent schedules for that too! Just Google it.) If you can only do one thing this year-great! One thing is an awesome start! Go for it! Next year, if you want, add something else. Above all else, remember that the Christmas season is a time to quiet our hearts and really take in the miracle that God sent us the day that Jesus was born. I pray blessings on you and your family this Christmas season.
From us to you, Merry Christmas!