Life with children is lively and wonderful, but every once in awhile I feel the expectations pressing in from all sides. Today, I found myself attempting to organize the attic, while at same time instruct my children (in a nice, calm voice, of course) to stop turning our living room into a gymnastic studio, to please put all the furniture back where they found it, and to please return all the bath and pool towels to the closet. Oh and Jane, Please stop turning the faucets on in every room of the house and draining the entirety of the water supply from the refrigerator water spout. After each incident, Jane mournfully confesses, “I sorry mommy, I won’t do it again”, only to turn around and do the very same thing exactly one minute later.
Our home is filled with erratic moments like these and today, like every day, I am yearning for Him to come near. I’m anticipating his coming. I’m ready for Advent.
So, what is Advent? Is it just the month of December? Is it an excuse to give a child a gift each day from the Santa Advent wall calendar?
Advent is different than Christmas. Advent is like the 37th week of pregnancy; Christmas is delivery day. In Advent, we are waiting; we hope. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”. We are in the season of anticipating Christ’s birth, His coming to us.
How do we actively participate in this holy time of year? If we are not intentional, the season slips away and we wistfully recall the scurrying, the busyness, the hustle and the bustle…..And miss the joy and the miracles all around us.
Lately, I’ve been pondering our past Advent seasons and remembering the numerous ways we observed Advent and the church calendar as a family. As the ground yearns for the precipitation of the first snow, I long to begin each Advent season prayerfully and thoughtfully, or at least as much as is possible for a family of six! And then there’s the ever-present temptation to plan, attend, holiday parties. Christmas celebrations are extremely merry and yes, we too will joyfully host one. But, I try to be vigilant about directing our attention toward Christ and helping our children to think of ways to give to others.
A few years ago when all of our children were younger, we were doing well if we managed to read an occasional Advent devotion, to color an ornament for the Jesse tree, and to light the weekly Advent candle (all while enduring meltdowns, children reaching for and blowing out the candle, and even climbing on the table to take the candles out of the Advent wreath). This year, now that the children are a little older, we hope to add to these practices.
Life can feel crowded, but I wish to inspire you to guide your family on a journey that will shape their souls and imaginations and lead them to truly behold the beauty of Christ during Advent. Remember, these aren’t legalistic rituals to impress God; these are life-giving practices that adapt to the unpredictable nature of family life.
Here are a few ideas I’ve culled over the years from several places:
- Thank You Notes: Each day, write a note to someone sharing how he or she has touched your life. You may want to place cards and stationary in a visible location (our kids are putting together a basket) so all family members are reminded to write daily.
- Gratefulness List: Hang a sheet of paper or use a chalkboard to write an “I’m grateful for” list and ask all family members to write how they have been blessed this year.
- Advent Devotional: Gather the family for a daily Advent devotional, discussion, and craft. Family read-aloud favorite: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.
- Acts of Kindness: Each day, commit to engage in an act of kindness toward a family member, friend, or neighbor. (Spend focused time with a child, bring a hot drink to a friend, deliver a warm meal to a family, give a baked good to the mailman)
- Serve Locally: Commit to serve a local organization, like a Rescue Mission or a Salvation Army or a shelter. You could also gather a group to go caroling at a nursing home.
- Give Globally: Give something to an organization that serves people in need around the world. Last year, our kids chose to give a goat and chickens to a family in Africa. Organizations: Compassion, World Vision, Children’s Hope Chest.
- Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, joy, and love.
- Consume Less: Consider discussing how shopping less and giving out more to others could make this season more holy and Christ-focused. Encourage your kids in giving to others rather than thinking about what to add to their Christmas list.
These are just a few ideas. For a bit more on the ‘why’ of Advent and the Church Calendar– along with some prayers and further reading, here’s my husband’s Advent 2014 resources post.
What about you? I’d love to hear what practices have helped you and your family prepare for Christ’s arrival and engage the season of Advent with expectation and hope.