The season leading up to Christmas can be really stressful, and many times I find myself sitting there the day after Christmas wishing I’d actually enjoyed the season. I’d told myself that this would be the year I actually made Christmas about Jesus and family and enjoying blessings and giving instead of parties and presents and stress. Maybe you can relate.
I still haven’t found the secret sauce to getting it right, but one thing I’ve found helpful is trying to live within the rhythm of the traditional Christian calendar and embracing the Advent Season. Advent is the season on the Church Calendar that precedes Christmas, like Lent precedes Easter. The focus of Advent is the eager expectation of God’s intervention, of God bringing the promised Messiah to set things right (which is what Christmas is about). But we still live in a world where there are plenty of situations where we await God’s intervention to set things right…so as we celebrate Advent we can look back to the first Christmas, and look forward, and celebrate the reality that God is still working.
I wanted to pass along some resources to you, that you may want to use personally or with your family, throughout this season to help you focus on God and let the gospel work on your heart instead of the stress of gifts. I know Thanksgiving is tomorrow and it seems like there’s a lot of time left before Christmas – but we are going to blink and it’s going to be December 26th. So here are a few ways for you to celebrate Advent and try to make this season an exercise in grace and peace:
Use an Advent Devotional.
There are a number of Advent Devotionals out there. These are books with readings to do each day (or in some cases each week). You can do these individually or with your family at dinner time, bed time, or some other time that works for you. Here are a couple you can use:
- The Village Church 2013 Advent Guide: An amazing, detailed devotional guide with stuff for you to do on your own and with your family. It includes not just devotionals but also family activities. I am going to use this with my family this year. It’s a free PDF.
- Good News of Great Joy: Daily readings for Advent, by John Piper. I plan to use this on my own this year. The link above is a free pdf, and here you can buy a paperback version from Amazon.
An Advent Wreath
We have a small wreath with spots for four candles on the perimeter and space for one big candle in the middle. You can buy one at a store or make one yourself easily. (This could be a fun craft to do with kids!) Each candle represents a different theme related to Advent. I’ve found different meanings for the four candles from different sources; I’d say you should have the candles represent whatever the theme of the week is for the Advent Devotional resource you’re using. That way it’s coherent with whatever else you’re doing for Advent.
Every Sunday marks the beginning of a new week of Advent, with this next Sunday (December 1st, 2013) being the first. Each Sunday we add a candle and light it as we go through the devotional materials, pray, have dinner, etc. The rest of the week we have the wreath as the cenerpiece of the table, light the candle(s), and when we pray for dinner we keep that week’s theme (love, or peace, or expectancy, or hope, for example) in mind and talk about how we experienced it or need it that day.
The missing candles throughout the month also help drive home the theme of Advent, which is expectancy, looking forward to God’s intervention. The missing candles and empty space remind us that there is more to come.
It will be messy, but you can do something!
This may seem daunting to you – but it’s not that difficult. If you aim for perfect you won’t get it. If you want your little kids to sit down peacefully at the dinner table and discuss how they need hope in the face of the struggles they’re facing in their life, or for them to not mess up the wreath, or for your entire family to be together for dinner every day…you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not going to be perfect. You’ll try some stuff, you’ll have some good days and some bad days. Some days you’ll give in to the stress and other days you won’t.
But as we struggle to include Jesus in the everyday rhythms of our lives, and our family’s lives, we will find ourselves being influenced and shaped by Him. Perfection can never be the goal. It can be yet another reminder that though we are messy and imperfect, though we get easily distracted and discouraged by other things, God still loves us and pursues us, and one day He will come to set all things right, including our crooked hearts. But for now, we can live in hope and expectation that through the mess God loves us and is gracious toward us.