By: Jillian Armstrong
Although it is 73 degrees outside and I'm currently wearing shorts and a t-shirt, Christmas season is indeed upon us! Whatever your thoughts on Santa Claus, Christmas music (before or after Thanksgiving?), trees, cookies and parties, there is a sense of magic about the month of December. For some people the magic may be blurred a bit by places of pain, for others it gets lost in the stress of planning and preparing, but hopefully for all of us, there are moments where we can pause to embrace and reflect what on we often refer to as “the true meaning of Christmas.”
So what is the true meaning of Christmas? I am all about decorating, giving gifts, looking at Christmas lights, I love all the traditions. But decorations and gifts aside, why do we put so much emphasis on something that has become so mainstream? Everything we do during this time of year is meaningless unless it all comes into focus around the One we continually aim to focus on: Jesus. That is why I am so passionate about the celebration of Advent.
In recent years, Advent has become pretty popular. You can even find “Advent” lego calendars at Walmart or chocolate calendars at Trader Joes, even wine calendars! Advent has joined the mainstream of Santa Claus and toys and gift guides. But the reality of Advent is a building of expectation as we remember the first coming of Jesus as a baby and as we look forward to the second coming of Jesus as King of Kings. The word “Advent” means “coming” or “arrival” and if you look into the history of the church, Advent is celebrated with candles and scripture reading, all with the intent of awakening in our hearts a renewed sense of waiting for the Messiah, the one who has come and will come again. Growing up in my family, we celebrated Advent on Sunday evenings by reading scripture, singing a Christmas carol, and talking about Jesus. As an adult, I also enjoy reading a daily Advent devotional. Celebrating Advent doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy, in fact it shouldn’t be! It is meant to be a reprieve, a chance to take a breath and reflect on Jesus.
In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, Advent anchors me. If I burn the Christmas cookies right before a party or my toddler breaks a special family heirloom ornament or if I get in a fight with my spouse when trying to pick out a tree, if the “special” moments I had planned seem to flop, it is ok. It’s ok because those things are just on the sidelines of Christmas. I can make more cookies, or buy them (honestly cookies are probably why this is also flu season, but that's another blog post). The ornament was just a thing, after all, and a humble apology goes a long way in marriage. The traditions and festive plans are great, but they pale in comparison to allowing my heart to expand with anticipation for the King who is coming again. And here's the thing, when there is stress and pain brought to the surface in the coming weeks, Jesus is willing to meet us in those places. After all, He is Emmanuel: God with us. We won't find healing at the mall spending money or in the kitchen eating too much sugar, but we will and can find a powerful healing grace in a quiet moment before God. I hope you’ll take time to celebrate Advent whether by yourself, with friends or with family, so that you are able to encounter the peace, the joy, the hope, and the love of Jesus in these coming weeks.
Here are some practical resources to help you embrace the Advent season:
Preparing for Christmas, Richard Rohr
In the Manger, 25 Inspirational Selections for Advent, Max Lucado
Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional, Ann Voskamp
God is in the Manger, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent, Ann Voskamp
Advent Storybook, Antonie Schneider and Maja Dusikovaa
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, John Piper
Sunday Scripture Readings:
As you read, consider what these passages say about waiting for the Messiah, about who Jesus is, and the promises of His life.
1st Sunday: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:37-44
2nd Sunday: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-9, Matthew 3:1-12
3rd Sunday: Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
4th Sunday: Isaiah 7:10-14, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-24
Practices to consider:
Whether purchased or homemade, use an Advent wreath and light a new candle each Sunday
Display a nativity scene in your home, and talk about the story and what each of the pieces mean
Take a few minutes each day to sit in complete stillness and quiet
Listen to worshipful Christmas music in the evenings
Go on a walk in the dark or turn off all the lights in your home and then turn on a flash light or light a candle