Okay: we all know that children (and adults) enjoy the Christmas season more when it is experienced in a calm, measured, well ordered manner. As if....
What if that could really, actually happen? How can we take control of the season instead of it taking control of us? I have a plan! There is a way. Read and be encouraged!
I have promised myself every single year for a few decades that this year was going to be the year that we slowed down and enjoyed the few weeks leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then every year I would say yes to everything I was invited to. Everything. It all sounded like so much fun! Then the dates rolled along, my normal responsibilities were still in place, some kind of crisis would rise up from nowhere, I'd end up agreeing to bring homemade cookies while forgetting that my Christmas cookies look (and taste) like preschoolers made them,
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I would realize that I was no longer having fun. I was meeting my Christmas obligations, but the Christmas joy was over when the plans became reality. But I would press on. That's what you do when you commit yourself, right? You press on. But I was not enjoying the season. I would read on the cars in traffic that "Jesus was the reason for the season" but it seemed to me that the season was all about trying to get it all done. Wearing myself out, snapping at my children, decorating the tree then never just looking at it, being so busy that the laundry piled up far more than usual.
Then, I discovered a beautiful gift. It was given to me by the wise and old traditions of the Church. It was given to all of us, but most churches have neglected this gift, at best giving it a courteous nod. The gift the Church gave me for Christmas is one I cherish carefully and pull out at this time of year. It benefits my family and me greater than all the homemade cookies that I have ever burned or over decorated.
The gift is Advent. Advent is the first season of the church year, and is the four Sundays before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent. Christmas day is the first day of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas begin with December 25. Advent is the greatest gift that we, as Christians can embrace during the month of December. Especially those of us in the 21st century when life is no longer simple.
Advent is a time of joyous, eager, expectant anticipation. We are anticipating the birthday of the Christ. The Baby. The One who came to save us. It is also a time of preparation. But the preparations of Advent are quite different from the preparations for Christmas.
Advent is a time to prepare your heart. A time to prepare your spirit. The only decoration that you might want (but do not need) is an Advent wreath to mark the passing of each Sunday. An Advent wreath is a small ring that has a place for four candles: three purple, one pink with a white one placed in the center for Christmas Eve.
Each Sunday a candle is lit along with the candles lit in previous weeks. The result is that your Advent wreath gets brighter and brighter with each successive week until it seems ablaze with the light of Christ who has been coming closer and closer as you let Him in a bit more. It is a beautiful, memorable, precious gift to give to yourself and your children
When my children were still living at home, the lighting of the Advent wreath was a sacred moment. We took turns praying and reading scripture. We talked about whatever was on our hearts. We reminded ourselves that in the midst of the Christmas hubbub, our hearts were firmly rooted in Advent. We were waiting. Anticipating. Expectant.
My children were very receptive to this. The were eager participants. Sometimes the lighting of candles and having fire on the table was distracting and way too much fun, but we still were reminded of the truth of Advent.
Your children want you to lead them in the ways of the Holy Spirit. Remember that little children ran to be near Jesus. There is something inside of the childlike spirit that willingly seeks out the heart of Christ. So, the younger you begin celebrating Advent the more natural it feels to them. But it is never too late to embrace the joy of Advent. Here are some tips for engaging in Advent.
Choose one or, at most, two events per week leading up to Christmas to attend. Choose based on your priorities. Church? School? You don't have to march with your Karate or Dance school in three Christmas parades. They use these as inexpensive advertisements. You are not obligated to do this. Choose, Wisely.
Engage in things of the spirit. If you have not been active in your church, this is a great time to jump in. Music, sermons, activities are all wrapped around Advent. These services will help you to prepare you heart.
Cut back. On Everything. Do what is fun, then stop.
Do not overspend. Seriously, Big ticket gifts are fun and impressive, but your children will remember that you were all in the church Christmas play before they will remember that in 2021 they received a video game that cost $*****. Prioritize the things of Advent. Spend less. Enjoy more.
Take a look at Advent this year. Embrace the time of preparation and lean in to embrace the baby that will lay in a manger.