Sunday, December 9, 2012

Celebrating Advent

As promised, the advent post. 

Up until this year I don't think I even really understood what advent was except in the general sense that it was the Christian term for the weeks leading up to Christmas Day (the birth of Christ). I definitely felt clueless as to how to fully recognize it. Easter always felt easier to invest myself in emotionally.  The power of the Cross is always so tangible for me - it is by His blood that I am healed. The power of the manger seemed less so. I loved thinking about holding a tiny baby Jesus in my arms and what that might be like, but beyond that it just didn't hit me in the same way as imagining Jesus on the cross, dying for my sins.  So I always left it at "The birth is nothing without the cross" or something like that. Maybe it was because, as I mentioned, I just didn't really know what to do with the advent season. After all, nowhere in Scripture are we called to recognize this holiday (or Easter) in a certain way - it's based on human tradition but is truly a matter of personal conviction.

Nevertheless, I didn't like that Christmas felt void of the fullness experienced at Easter. I felt like I was missing out on a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the humble beginnings of the Word made flesh (John 1:14). So this year, I decided to stop letting my lack of "powerful feelings" keep me from experiencing the true joy that can be found in intentionally taking part in the advent season. One of those ways is by following along in the Desiring God: Good News of Great Joy daily devotional. The reflections are brief but packed with good stuff. I really appreciated the preface which gave a short synopsis on what Advent is and why it's celebrated (helpful!):

Advent is an annual season of patient waiting, hopeful expectation, soul-searching, and calendar-watching marked by many churches, Christian families, and individual followers of Jesus. There’s no biblical mandate to observe Advent. It’s an optional thing—a tradition that developed over the course of the church’s history as a time of preparation for Christmas Day. Many of us find observing Advent to be personally enjoyable and spiritually profitable. The English word “Advent” is from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” The advent primarily in view each December is the first coming of Jesus two millennia ago. But Jesus’s second coming gets drawn in as well, as the popular Christmas carol “Joy to the World” makes plain: 
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
I never knew that advent meant "coming." Knowing that helps direct my heart towards fostering a sense of anticipation. This may be obvious to others but for me, as I mentioned, this year is the first time I am approaching Christmas with new eyes and my whole heart. That said, I highlighted the part about there being no biblical mandate to observe Advent because I think it's common within Christians circles to promote the opposite - that you have to keep it strictly about Jesus and nothing more. Which is why I also appreciate this part:
Christians throughout the world have their different ways of celebrating Advent. Some light candles. Some sing songs. Some eat candies. Some give gifts. Some hang wreaths. Many of us do all of the above. Christians have developed many good ways of extending the celebration of Jesus’s coming beyond merely the short 24 hours of December 25. The incarnation of the Son of God, “for us and for our salvation,” as the old creed says it, is too big a thing to appreciate in just one day. Indeed, it’s something the Christian will celebrate for all eternity. Our prayer is that this little devotional ebook might help you keep Jesus as the center and greatest treasure of your Advent season. The candles and candies have their place, but we want to make sure that in all the December rush and hubbub we adore Jesus above all.
Yes. Good. Amen. Indeed all the trimmings of Christmas can be a serious distraction but are not all bad so long as they're kept in the background while Jesus stands at the forefront. We love putting up Christmas decorations, watching Christmas movies, and taking part in the usual Christmas festivities.

But the commercialism does bother us and now that we have kids, we are more conscious of how the other side of Christmas (Santa et al.) effects their (and our) focus of the season. For those of you wondering, we aren't doing Santa. But he won't be banned from our home - he'll simply stand in the same line up as any other fictional character - not real but fun to think about. Speaking of our kids, another way we are celebrating Advent is to do a 12 Days till Christmas countdown with the focus being again on anticipating the birth of Jesus. Jack is already solid on this knowledge, and I'm thankful that he really does show excitement that "Jesus was born on Christmas day!" But we'll also do something like this as a tangible way of experiencing the anticipation of his coming (thanks to Jami Nato for the inspiration):
In the future, I'd love to do a Jesse tree and make ornaments like this (thanks again, Jami Nato) - but it was a little ambitious for this year and a little advanced for Jack.

I've always loved the lighting of the advent wreath growing up.  My mom always bought the colored candles: three purple for the wise men, one pink for Mary and one white for Jesus. I guess you're supposed to use evergreens as well as a symbol of life but I adopted this design from the author over at Simple Notebook a few years ago. I didn't find a bundt cake pan until a few months ago (there not as easy to come by as you'd think) so this is the first year we're actually lighting candles. I found the filler + place mat at Target for $8 - total steal!

We also invested in a Nativity scene this year.  I love Fontanini sets the best, because they're more realistic and they remind me of the one my mom has. But they're seriously expensive, and this one was on sale (Tim went out at midnight on Black Friday to get it - a first). I felt it important to have the visual reminder a nativity set offers, especially for Jack. Right now it's kept on top of the book case in our dining room but as the boys get older and more responsible, I hope to keep it in a more accessible location where it can be interacted with.

Of course, these are all just visual cues and material ways of recognizing Advent. I could read a piece of Scripture a day, or light a candle every Sunday or glance up at my manger scene throughout the day but if my heart isn't right, none of it matters. The key for me, as I mentioned earlier, is to put my heart into this. Which is why I want to commit the next 14 days (and in future years, the whole advent season) to taking time each day to be in prayer and in the Word in hopeful expectation that I will wake up Christmas morning filled with a new revelation of God's presence in my life. My desire for this came when I began to think about what it would have been like two thousand years ago to live without the knowledge of the Gospel because it hadn't yet been fulfilled. Imagine being a Jew knowing that the Messiah, your Messiah, was going to be born in a few short weeks. Or, to bring it closer to home, imagine if you knew for certain that Jesus was coming back in the flesh this December 25, 2012. Imagine if on that day you knew you'd see him, touch him, hold him. I know I'd be giddy with anticipation. I'd be preparing. I'd be telling everyone. I'd be freaking.out. So I want to anticipate Jesus coming into my life in a new way on December 25. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but I do know that if I'm earnestly seeking more of him this Advent than something is going to be changed within me by Christmas morning. 

So that's me.
What are some ways you and your family recognize Advent 
or simply celebrate the Christmas season? 

1 comment:

  1. Love the bundt cake idea! I'd love to find a colourful one like you got. I think I have Nanny's old silver one...maybe I'll make that work:).


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