Depending on when Thankgiving falls in the month of November, it’s just a matter of days before December — and the countdown to Christmas — begins. When I was a child this was all about the presents. Yes, yes, it was.
I wasn’t a Christian then and while I knew it was “Jesus’ birthday,” that just meant presents and candy for me.
As an adult, I can still get caught up in things that don’t signify Jesus. God doesn’t care what color ribbon I use on my packages or how many different kinds of cookies I bake. But, those things can distract me from the true meaning of the day:
Celebrating the time when God became man in order to save His people from sin and death.
… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”). — Matthew 1:20-23
Wow! It’s so easy to pass over that fact when we see images of Baby Jesus in the manger. Forget about the public sector, even in our own homes it can be difficult to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I guess that’s where we need to be extra prayerful at this time of year.
One way that we can be regularly reminded of what’s most important this season is to observe advent. Traditionally this segment of the church calendar is designed to remind us of the time when the Hebrews awaited Messiah’s coming and to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus will come again.
It is often observed with the practice of an advent wreath, a crown of greenery and candles, of which one candle is lit each Sunday, accompanied by prayers and Scripture readings.
Tackling Advent Wreath Guilt
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been one who really embraced the traditional Advent wreath. I remembered making and lighting one as a child and as a young mom, I felt that we really should have an Advent wreath, but neither my husband nor I really got enthusiastic about lighting a candle and reciting some lines once a week. It was forced at best.
Yet, I felt so burdened that I didn’t embrace this tradition.
A year or two later, while I was still nursing my Advent-wreath-guilt, a friend sent us a Jesse tree and a set of ornaments. That changed our December days as my little boy and I opened an ornament every day and hung it on a little tree on a nearby table. We read Bible accounts about the meaning behind the ornaments, how the Incarnation had been part of God’s plan from the beginning of the world.
Jesus is present throughout all of the Bible, from Creation on. This was a revelation to me! I was learning more about God alongside my son.
Overtime, I found that having two trees was too complicated for my home management, and we changed our tradition again by adding our Jesse tree ornaments to our Christmas tree. This totally worked!
This is not to diminish the Advent wreath tradition or even that of the separate Jesse tree, but to say that there are lots of ways to observe Advent. If one doesn’t naturally fit your family’s habits and personalities, try another one!
Some you might consider:
- Read through The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean
Counting Down to Christmas, not Presents
The point of Advent is to remember that Jesus came and that He will come again. It is a time of great waiting and expectancy of God’s goodness. While this is difficult for young children to grasp, it doesn’t mean we can’t begin the conversation at an early age.
Some would say we shouldn’t confuse the issue by giving our children presents at Christmas, but I think that the two can coexist. Don’t get me wrong — I love Christmas cookies, trees, presents, ornaments, and stockings! And I think these “trappings of Christmas” can all point us to Jesus — if we are diligent to count down to Christmas, not the stuff.
In a way, it begins with me, the Mom.
- Am I focused on the picture perfect holiday more than enjoying my family and the blessings God has given me?
- Am I more concerned about finding enough red ribbon for my packages than I am about teaching my children the true meaning of the holiday, reading meaningful stories, and talking about Jesus?
- Am I weaving Jesus into our celebrations more than Santa Claus, gingerbread men, or Christmas trees?
I have this beautiful, God-given opportunity to teach my children about Jesus and How Very Good He Has Been to Us. I hope that I won’t squander it this year. It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings instead of using them as a vehicle to drive us to Christ.
And that’s how I’ll be praying this year. That I can keep Christ in Christmas — for me and for my little ones. That I can look to Him.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.