The Ache of Advent

viva_filipinas_AdventWreath

We spent Thanksgiving week with family up in the mountains. Amidst the frequent meltdowns, fights, and disarray in our rental condo, we experienced brief ‘stabs of joy’, as C.S. Lewis called it— moments that helped us transcend the moment. Joy matters not only because it makes the toil and the cost of life worthwhile, but because it can lead to hope; it can remind us that there is more than what we see and feel.

That same week, tragedy struck our city as three lives were lost in a deplorable shooting at Planned Parenthood. Our hearts, still heavy from the terrorist attacks in Paris weeks earlier, were sinking with grief. Superficial joy has nothing to say to such pain.

The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday season’ isn’t that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas’; it’s that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.

This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return. Advent is a joy that helps us hope.

Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.

But there’s one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.

As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in people’s hearts? Maybe its through buying slave-free products or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘see’ your neighbor who’s going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. We’ve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.

Yesterday, all around the world we lit the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.

Grace and peace,

Glenn and Holly

RESOURCE LINKS

Advent prayers, devotionals, and music (Glenn)

On celebrating Advent with children (Holly)

Favorite Advent and Christmas reading lists for the whole family (Holly)

 

Advertisements

He Was There

10885426_10152979976169553_236860240771748331_n

I thought since I had shared all my goals and desires for the Advent and Christmas seasons that I should also share my struggle and the unexpected joy in retrospect, even though we’re well into a new year now.

It was Christmas Eve.  I was fighting an inner battle.  Fighting the sad feeling of what felt like loss in the two weeks prior.  Like so many, we had been sick with the flu and croup.

As I blogged about earlier, I had high hopes, a vision for the Advent season.  But my memory of many days during the Advent season— even now—was resting, laying cold cloths on my children’s heads, emptying bottles of essential oils in our diffuser, filling humidifiers, washing germ filled bedding and on the list goes. It can feel like lost time, lost memories, or even lost meaning.

I have a choice— even now— to see those weeks as lost or to ask, “Was God there? What was He doing?”

He was there.

He was there when I woke early to the glorious pink and purple sunrise after a restless night of little sleep. Oh how that moment spoke to me of his love, beauty, and care for me.

He was there as I lay awake at night with my two year old cuddled by my side listening to her barking cough and praying she would breathe steadily through the night.

He was there when I lay in bed with my two younger ones for days when we didn’t have the energy to stir.

He was there when we dragged our sluggish bodies to the table for a short evening of catching up on Advent readings.

And in the midst of it all, however lovely or unlovely I felt, I was reminded of His unfailing love.  In the midst of our weakness and sickness, our frailty and brokenness, He came…to rescue, to redeem, and to bring new life.

Did I see it then?  Not always. Often, I felt the sadness of not being able to fully engage. But as I ponder now, I see how how the whole family came to one another to serve, to love, and to sacrifice. We slowed down and looked in each others eyes, and asked, “How can I help you today?”  My sweet husband— spared our sickness— was always there in an instant to bring us soup or get up in the night to the aid of a crying child.

Just before Christmas, I had a tearful moment of feeling depleted and despairing about what felt like a loss of a meaningful Advent season.  As my husband gently embraced me, his thoughtful words stilled my anxious heart.  Glenn whispered, “You know, I wonder how Joseph and Mary felt on that night their blessed child was born?”  The first Christmas, after all, wasn’t a perfect scene.  And yet, there was peace.  He had come.

More important than my hope or desires for the Advent season is the radiant truth that Jesus came.  And he comes to us still, in our chaos and disappointment, in our sadness and sickness.

And I’m so grateful he does, in Advent, in Christmas, and beyond.

My Favorite Advent and Christmas Books

christmas-booksAdvent is upon us.  It’s been a joy to see our 9 and 8 year old engage this season more than ever before.  We’ve been waiting for years to see glimpses of their understanding surround the idea of waiting and hoping.  The girls are running with the idea of giving to others this season.  Our second daughter, Norah, who lives and breathes art, created an Advent basket.  It is beautifully lined with ribbon and various cards waiting to be written on and handed out to neighbors and friends.  And Sophia, our story girl, has been asking, “When are we going to read the story about St. Nicholas?”

Over the years, a handful of Christmas books have become family favorites. And we continue to add more! I’ve just about maxed out my number of books on loan from the library. The good news for you is I’ve made some lists!

SO….Cozy up with your family on the couch, grab your hot cocoa, build a fire, and pick a book or two from this delightful list.  Enjoy the season!

Advent and Christmas Read Alouds

Family Favorites

Other Christmas-themed books……

  • Gift of the Magi by O Henry
  • The Polar Express by Chris Can Allsburg
  • Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray
  • The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
  • The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
  • A Christmas Like Helen’s by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Coloring books

  • Christmas Around the World by Joan O’Brien (Dover)
  • Old-Time Christmas Village Sticker Advent Calendar (Dover Sticker Books)
  • Nativity Stained Glass Coloring Book (Holiday Stained Glass Coloring Book) (Vol i)
  • My Book of Little House Christmas Paper Dolls: Christmas on the Prairie
  • Nutcracker Ballet Paper Dolls with Glitter! (Dover Paper Dolls)

Advent and Christmas Devotional Books

What about you? What are some of your favorite Advent and Christmas books?

Celebrating Advent with Kids

Fisher_advent_candleThe Advent season is nearly upon us. Tis the season when we yearn, groan, anticipate, settle in to a kind of holy waiting. We echo Isaiah’s ‘How long, o Lord?’ as we wait for Simeon’s ‘At last…!’

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Advent Devotional: Gather the family for a daily Advent devotional, discussion, and craft.  Family read-aloud favorite: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.
  4. 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)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.