Christmas is a mixed bag for our family. I love the lights, decorations, special events, and family activities, but I dread the busy-ness of the season. The hectic schedule, the long to-do lists, the mental obsession over our family budget vs. gift list all threaten to zap any pleasure from this season. I recently read another blog where the writer talked about the irony of unpacking loads of plastics tubs full of decorations expounding joy and peace. Probably the most troubling part for me has been our family’s inability to elegantly weave a message of excitement for Christ’s birth in with our reindeer and Christmas trees. I blame the fact that when our son was young, we did not attend church and were not active in our faith. Although we had a nativity set we received as a wedding gift, it was just another decoration, and we did not talk about it much. Our son started off life being trained that Christmas was all about the lights, presents, and homemade cookies (and I’m not much of a baker). Weaning our family off secular traditions has been a frustrating journey.
A couple years ago, a close friend challenged us to actively engage in a season of Advent. Having grown up in church, I knew enough about lighting candles each Sunday, and each week having a different theme that included songs and Scripture readings. While I am a sucker for tradition, my heart desired something more personal, something that would change the heart of our family. I wanted more than rituals; I wanted to keep many of our traditions but use December as a journey to reacquaint us with the miracle of Christ’s birth. After wandering around Christian web pages and bookstores, I have come to a few suggestions that have helped us change our approach to the month of Advent.
- It’s okay to make your family’s celebration of Advent as unique as your family. While there are lots of traditions about the colors of the candles, the pine boughs, and even the circular wreath, none of that is as important as finding what works for your family. I have found that lighting a simple candle at dinner and offering a very intentional prayer is exactly what our family needs. Here is a picture of our very non-traditional Advent “wreath”.
- The weekly themes of Advent are the basis of tradition that binds us together. While the order of the themes might vary, and each year we might use a different activity guide, all of them are grounded in the same simple ideas.
Jesus is our HOPE. As believers, we celebrate the hope and comfort we have in Christ. We trust that someday Christ will take us home, and we will have a deeper relationship that will last through all eternity. God’s promise is so clearly written out in John 14: 1-3.
verse 3: “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”
Jesus is our LOVE. God’s plan of salvation was motivated by His love for us. We are reminded that the King, Christ, was born in a humble manager and died a criminal’s death on the cross to provide a way for us to have a personal, loving relationship with Him. It is important for us to go back to our roots and meditate on John 3:16-18.
verse 16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…”
Jesus is our PEACE. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in Isaiah 9:6 that a Child is born who is the Prince of Peace. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the stress of life and then get swamped by seasonal expectations. But the good news is, we have the power to choose between letting emotions rule us or letting the Prince of Peace flood our soul with thankfulness.
Jesus is our JOY. We have spent the month remembering that God sent His only Son out of love, to give us hope for the future, and by abiding in Him we can enjoy the peace only Christ can provide. Now in the final week of Advent, we can praise and worship Him and find joy in His presence. David models for us throughout the Psalms that there is no greater joy than the joy God gives us.
- Remember, Advent is not intended to be one more item on your to do list. Give yourself some grace to adapt to the rhythm of your schedule. My family usually only sits down to dinner together a few times per week because of our schedules. On the evenings we are all at the table, we set aside time to focus on our Advent activities. The other nights, we might skip it altogether. The point is that, throughout the month, we are focused on the miracle of Christ’s birth.
Advent celebrations traditionally start on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas. This year, that will be December 3. We pray that you will join us in this journey, bringing Christ into your family Christmas traditions. Here are a few guides we recommend to help you get started:
For families with young children:
O Holy Night: A build-it-yourself Nativity Scene and Advent Calendar from Focus on the Family
For families with older children:
Knowing Him by Name from Focus on the Family
For for families with teenagers:
Christmas Gifts that Won’t Break – Youth Study
Christine Clark is the Ministry Coordinator for the Family and Children’s Ministry at Stonebriar Community Church. She has a passion for supporting parents and helping them gain confidence and tools to be spiritual leaders in their homes. She is blessed to be the mom of a middle school son and the wife of her college sweetheart for more than 20 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.