For many of us this time from November to the beginning of January is considered the “holiday season” and it truly can be the “most wonderful time of the year”. And yet today with so many competing & conflicting messages surrounding these holidays – we often let the TRUE meaning slip away from us and we miss this wonderful opportunity to build up our faith and teach our children.
It is sad to think that the day set aside to celebrate the birth of our Lord & Savior has become vastly commercialized – fully exploited for profit. The sales seem to start earlier and earlier each year enticing us to buy, buy, buy! The pressure to give gifts is relentless and fills many with a dreaded sense of obligation or “guilt gifting”. How many of us have lamented this commercialization & yet we let year after year go by without being purposeful about making sure Jesus is at the very heart & center of our celebrations.
In today’s culture there is also a full on assault on the Christian faith that is being being attacked relentlessly from many avenues – everywhere from court decisions, to politics, to the marketplace, to education as well as atheists who take offense at the fact that Christmas truly is about Jesus (whether they like that or not). Billboards like this are popping up everywhere during the holiday season.
When children were recently asked at a shopping mall what the true meaning of Christmas was….they responded with –
• Santa Claus
• Presents! Presents! Presents!
• Christmas Trees & Lights
• and even one said…something to do with the Discovery of America
Children learn about Christmas like they learn about most things in life – from their families. Even in our own very purpose driven family when I ask my five year old, at the beginning of the Christmas season, what it is all about he responds with….“Presents!“ I then explain to him that it is not really about getting presents at all but rather a celebration of the birth of Jesus. It takes him several weeks to instantly answer…“Jesus!” …after being quizzed as to the true meaning of Christmas. (Yes, repetition IS the key to learning!)
I don’t know about you but I want my children to grow up and reject the commercialization of Christmas, to not “cave in” to the pressure to spend and make the season all about gifts and to stand strong against the anti Christian culture that is gaining strength and momentum.
I believe that as purposeful Christians we should have three main goals during the Christmas season -
- To teach the true meaning of “Christmas” to our children – (after all the word “Christ – mas” – means Christ worship)
- To emphasize the spiritual & NOT the secular – let’s have everything point to Jesus!
- To use the holiday season to share the love of Jesus Christ with others!
One of the best ways that our family has been able to keep the Christmas season focused on the gift of the Savior (rather than the gifts under the tree!) is by celebrating Advent. This is one of those rare years that Thanksgiving fell so early in November that Advent did not begin the Sunday after Thanksgiving…but rather has its start next Sunday December 2nd. This morning as I contemplated the calendar…it struck me how many of my blog readers would actually have a chance to implement the observance of Advent this year as they would have the entire week to prepare if I could quickly get a blog post out to inspire them to begin this awesome family tradition! So my dear friends…lets begin an Advent “primer” to get you all fully up to speed and ready to begin this coming Sunday!
What is Advent?
The word Advent means “coming” – celebrating Advent means celebrating the coming of Jesus. This is three fold for our family:
- His historical coming – as in His physical birth over 2000 years ago.
- His coming into our hearts – the moment in time that we commit our hearts and lives to Jesus (as the Christmas hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem so eloquently describes: ”O holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in; Be born in us today”)
- His prophetic final coming in the last days – the ultimate return of Jesus Christ for which we wait expectantly!
When is Advent?
The season of Advent begins four weeks before Christmas. This year it is Sunday December 2, 2012
- Advent 2013 begins on the First Sunday in Advent, December 1, 2013
- Advent 2014 begins on the First Sunday in Advent, November 30, 2014
- Advent 2015 begins on the First Sunday in Advent, November 29, 2015
- Advent 2016 begins on the First Sunday in Advent, November 27, 2016
Celebrating Advent helps you to set aside time every day or at least once a week to concentrate on the true meaning of Christmas. We have celebrated advent in our family several ways over the years but our main annual tradition that we have always done is having an advent wreath and weekly family devotional service.
The Advent wreath is in a circle which represents eternity and is surrounded by evergreens which represent life….eternal life. The wreath is decorated with five candles….one for each of the four Sundays before Christmas and one for Christmas Eve.
The first candle (purple) symbolizes hope – the hope that the Messiah would come
The second candle (purple) symbolizes love – Gods love towards us for sending His Son Jesus to save us from our sins
The third candle (pink) symbolizes joy – the joy we find in Christ and His coming
The fourth candle (purple) symbolizes peace – the peace that comes in knowing Christ as Lord and Savior
The fifth candle is the Christ candle (white in center) which symbolizes purity
The wreath is always in the center of our table so everyday we are reminded of the Advent season.
The Family Advent Service or Devotional
We have our weekly advent service every Sunday evening during dessert. We always dim the lights and set the table with some festive china….we want to make it a special time that the kids look forward to! We use a simple advent devotional book that is not too cumbersome so we don’t lose the attention of the younger children. Our service includes – scripture reading, lighting of the advent candle, a short story, singing some Christmas hymns & prayer. Different family members take part in each aspect of the service so everyone is involved. (they love that!)
After our service we enjoy yummy desserts & egg nog, hot apple cider or cocoa while we savor family time together. Having a weekly Advent family service I believe has been one of the key components of keeping Jesus the focus of our Christmas season.
There are multiple resources out there for good devotional books or head on over to the Christian bookstore and pick one up. I have two that I have written which I hope to have up for you before Sunday! (UPDATE: got’er done! You can access the devotionals here)
Other Advent Adventures
There are many other things that you can do daily for Advent and if you search the Internet I am sure there are a plethora of great ideas. Don’t get overwhelmed just pick one or several and just do it!
We have had an Advent Prayer banner in our home where we list people who are lost, hurting, in need of a healing or a Christmas miracle. Everyday we pray for these people and add new names to the list. It helps us keep our focus on others and not ourselves.
This year we will be adding a new Advent activity to our family traditions. We have heard of these wonderful Advent storybooks - Jothams Journey, Bartholomews Passage and Tabitha’s Travels – from our friends for years and I finally purchased them. They are fifteen minute readings that are simple, short and spiritual. A wonderful way to keep shopping, traffic, rehearsals, concerts, parties and all the other preparations of Christmas in balance with the reality of God in our lives. We will begin the first book this Advent season…reading a selection everyday. I can’t wait!
I pray that today you will be inspired to begin your own celebration of Advent this year…setting aside time to really focus on the true meaning of this wonderful time of the year. Whether you are a college student in the dorm with your fellow co-eds, a single young adult, a newly married or childless couple, a young family, small family, big family, crazy family, empty nesters or elderly grandparents….I encourage you to do prepare your heart for Christmas by observing Advent this year in a very special way!
I would love to hear what you plan to do this year for Advent! Leave a comment below so that we may all enjoy.