Preparing for Advent - Part 3

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Preparing For Advent - Part 3

by Mike Littleton

One of the greatest joys our family has had in observing Advent is the creation of our own traditions. (By “traditions” I don’t mean stiff religious practices that never change, but rather a seasonal rhythm our whole family looks forward to). Every year we look forward to the Advent season. For our kiddos, this season always contains elements they look forward to every year, but also some elements of surprise.

With this post, I simply want to share with you the basics of how we observe Advent, some of the devotions our family has used for the Advent season, as well as some of the fun things we mix into the season.

How We Observe Advent

The way we observe Advent doesn’t change much from year to year, but as I’ve said, it’s something our family looks forward to. Here’s how it works.

Every night during the Advent season the whole family gathers together on the couch for our Advent devotion time. This time always begins with lighting candles. We light the number of candles that correspond to the number of days we are into Advent. After lighting candles, we’ll then move into reading our devotional. For the past couple of years, we’ve used Ann Voskamp’s, Unwrapping The Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration Of Christmas. After reading the devotion for the evening, we’ll have some discussion about what we just read (question are provided in Voskamp’s book) and then we’ll usually sing a Christmas song or two.

After all of this comes everyone’s favorite part. Snuffing the candles. Our kiddos rotate every night with who gets to snuff out the candles. After this, we’ll pray and send the kids off to bed.

What I just described is the most basic and simple way we’ll go through an evening. But everything I mentioned is variable, moveable, and changeable. The two things we try sticking the hardest to are lighting and snuffing the candles and reading our particular devotion for the evening. (If we miss a night we’ll read two the next night. If we miss more than one night–because it happens–we might just skip ahead and not worry about what we missed).

Here are a few other things we like to do.

  • Stay up late watching a Christmas movie.

  • Make hot chocolate, jump in the car, and drive around to see Christmas lights.

  • Make Christmas cookies.

  • Read other Christmas stories.

  • Sit by the fire and listen to Christmas music.

The possibilities really are endless. We like to surprise our kids with an Advent activity or two every year. For example, we might put them to bed and then make hot cocoa and go look at Christmas lights. (We move quickly so as to not let them fall asleep).

Our overall hope and purpose with observing Advent is to be reminded, as a family, who Christmas is really about. In everything we do, we make an effort to teach our kids about Jesus and the reality that if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be doing any of these things. Christmas really is about the gift we’ve received in the humble incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Advent Devotionals

Gospel-centered Advent devotionals can be especially helpful during the Advent season. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of great ones to choose from on the market–especially for families with little children. But here’s a short list of some of the ones we’ve worked through and enjoyed as a family.

Unwrapping The Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration Of Christmas by Ann Voskamp

  • This devotional is especially great if you have little kiddos. The stories are short, well written, and beautifully illustrated.

Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul Tripp

  • This is the devotional we plan to work through this year. We might couple it with some reading fro Voskamp’s book as our children now range from 1-9 years of age.

The Dawning Of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings For Advent by John Piper

  • I have only read parts of this devotional. It’s a bit headier and not the greatest for a family devotional time with only little kiddos. However, it’s great for adults.

God Is In The Manager: Reflection On Advent And Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Our church worked through this devotional together a couple years ago. I loved it and it seemed well received by everyone else as well. As with all of Bonhoeffer’s writing, much deep thinking is required.

Some final thoughts

First, don’t neglect the Bible. We usually try to read the story of Jesus’s birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Second, don’t underestimate what your children are absorbing and learning. Many of your evenings will feel unfruitful and perhaps like a waste of time. But stick with it and know that your kiddos are really smart and they’re learning something about the Savior of the world.

May you be richly blessed this Advent season, seeing and savoring Jesus more deeply than you ever have before.

Preparing for Advent-Part 2

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By Mike Littleton

I can remember Christmas as a child like it was yesterday. My two younger sisters and I would wake up around 3:00 a.m. to go see the large pile of presents under the tree, and in the dark stillness of the night, we’d open our stockings. I guess this was our own little tradition. We’d then go back to sleep until about 5:30 a.m. at which time we’d do our best to gently nudge (not really though) our parents out of bed so we could open up everything else.

There was no day throughout the year so eagerly anticipated like the coming of like Christmas Day.

Though my experience misses the point of Christmas entirely, and the Advent season, in particular, it does get to the heart of what the Advent is about–anticipation

What is Advent?

The word “advent” is derived from the latin adventus, and it simply means coming.

The advent season was not one originally associated with Christmas however. Scholars believe the earliest observances of advent were for a season of preparation before the baptism of new Christians. By the 6th century, it was a season observed primarily in light of Christ’s second coming, not his first. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that advent was specifically associated with Christmas.

Advent today continues to be tied to the Christmas season. The Advent season itself starts four Sundays before Christmas and can fall as soon as November 27th and as late as December 3rd. This year, Advent will start on Sunday, December 3rd.

The Advent season today is intended to cause us to look forward to Christ’s second coming, and also backward at his first coming. During the first two Sundays of Advent, we look forward to his Second coming, while the last two Sundays before Christmas we look back to and remember his first coming.

The whole season is intended to be one of reflection, remembrance, confession, and repentance. In many ways, Advent is intended to be observed similarly to Lent.

The Themes Of Advent

There are numerous themes one can find attached to the Advent season today. Traditionally, the themes of love, joy, peace, and hope are the most common themes. But I’ve also observed the Advent season with the themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. (These themes are found in an Advent devotional with the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

In some Advent traditions, candles and wreaths are used to represent various components of the Advent observance. The wreath is intended to symbolize the eternal nature of God, while the candles represent a myriad of different things depending on the historical tradition you’re reading.

Why you should consider observing Advent.

There’s a lot of differentiation with the Advent season, and different traditions observe it in their unique ways.

There are numerous ways you and your family can celebrate the Advent season. There are no hard and fast rules. You may even choose not to observe Advent. However, there is indeed great value in doing something to observe Advent–both in your home and in the local church.

The Christmas season in our culture is dominated by anything but stillness and meditation. Many of us dread this season because of the madness that comes along with it. Put simply, it’s easy for us to miss the point–the coming of Christ. Intentionally observing Advent, in whatever way you may choose to do so, may just be the thing that helps you, your family, and your church to slow down enough to see and treasure Jesus above anything else. And that is a good gift.

If you’ve never observed the full Advent season, I encourage you to do so this year. It’ll be awkward and perhaps difficult. But the reward will be great as you set your heart on the humble coming of Jesus thousands of years ago, as well as his future coming in power and glory.

Simply put, the reason we should observe Advent is that it helps to fix our attention where it ought to be fixed–on the Savior of the world.

In my next post, I’m going to share some of the things my family has done and what we’re hoping to do this year.