Advent reflections

Longing through Advent

December 1, 2010

The soft, white light of our Christmas tree scatters across the floor as we peer together into the cardboard box. The faded newspaper rustles and we unwrap the figurines, and I smile as my fingers brush the dark wood.

“This one must be a shepherd,” I tell her. We laugh, and I am mesmerized by the beauty of both my daughter and this old, hand-carved nativity set. It’s a family heirloom of sorts, but my mind draw a blank as I wish to recount its history.

Excitement grows as piece by piece we unwrap with Christmas-morning-like vigor. At last, I find an empty wooden bowl, and ask her who the baby is who goes in it.

“Moses!” she declares triumphantly, but quickly changes her response to “Jesus!” as I remind her this is Christmas. We talk, and I question her about the story, which she retells remarkably well for a two-year old, minus a few key elements here and there (such as the names!).

“What was Jesus’ present?” she asks with a puzzled look.

Trees, lights, presents, and Jesus…those are the key elements of Christmas to her right now. Unsure of whether she meant Jesus’ present to us, or Jesus’ presents He received, I tell her about His present to us, realizing later she probably meant the latter and I over-romanticized the moment.

And again, I am drawn back to the nativity. There must be a story behind it. The dark wood, the simplicity…it’s the nativity that I’ve always wanted: wooden, lightweight, rustically beautiful, and best of all for our young family…something small children can play with. It’s a story I hope to piece together, to tell her someday, giving her a story to tell one day, too.

But I remember that it’s not the most important Story I want to tell her…

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As Daniel and I began our home together, I thought often about ways that we could have family traditions and ask that God use them to teach our children about Himself. When a friend gave me a copy of Noel Piper’s Treasuring God in Our Traditions as a baby shower gift, that desire only grew.

It is exciting to be at a point where at least one of our children is excited about Christmas (and when she is excited, the other also gets quite excited!).

And now this year, the advent spiral is ready. I have the candles. I have spent months (and now realize I should have started much, much sooner!) combing through various resources for our Advent anticipation this year. We have our books, our readings, and soon will cut out our ornaments to hang on our Jesse Tree.

Neither of us celebrated Advent growing up, and I don’t have much exposure to it at all. But when I read of the Jesse tree and the meaning of Advent, it captivated me as a way to share and expose ourselves to the longing for Jesus that we so wish to be a part of the season.

And so, we navigate these waters for the first time, combining elements of Advent traditions and elements of the Jesse tree traditions to create our own Christmastime traditions.

Here’s what we’re planning to do this year:

There are 2 main time-frames to celebrate: First, you can celebrate using the liturgical calendar that begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, and goes through 4 Sundays (November 28, this year).  Second, to celebrate with the 25-day countdown, which begins December 1 each year. We are doing the latter this year. (Also, if you’re working with a preschooler, this is a great way to incorporate an alphabet theme, since there are 26 letters and 25 days till Christmas.)

Helpful Resources:

DLTK Free Dowloadable Advent Coloring Pages (website)

B is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Board Book (I don’t have this book; I just found it when I was looking for something to do similar and write my own “A” is for poems to correspond with the day of Advent.)

A beautiful example of a homemade felt Jesse Tree (website)

The Jesse Tree: Stories and Symbols of Advent (This is actually what we had planned to use, and to use to make our ornaments. However, when Ann Voskamp shared her free e-book (linked below), I felt it was more suited to what we were wanting to use.)

Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Advent Devotional (e-book) (This is much of what I was looking for/trying to recreate all along, but it just came out at the end of Novemeber–would have saved me a lot of searching! 🙂 And it’s free for downloading!)

Advent Hymns (website)

Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration (book)

Jothams’ Journey: A Storybook for Advent (book, there are more in the series; we have this, but I’ve found it to be more suited for older elementary children and up)

Advent Storybook (book, has one story per day, and is rather short. It follows a story about a bear who follows a star to Bethlehem; not exactly what I was hoping for, but may be helpful to some)

The themes brought out by the Jesse Tree ornaments and reading very much follow what is highlighted in The Big Picture Story Bible. If you are reading along with young children, it may also be helpful to have them follow along with this Bible, or use their nightly Bible times to draw out the same parts of Scripture.

(There were numerous other resources, but these were some of the most helpful to me. I’m certain that as we go through this month, that we’ll become aware of many more resources, different ways to do things, and most likely cross things off our list of what we planned to do. And I’d love to hear great resources from others who are celebrating this way.)

Why Celebrate Advent?

“The season of Advent, a season of waiting, is designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the second coming. In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testament promises, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away.” ~Worship Sourcebook, p. 21

Simply put, advent is a season for longing. As we incorporate its use in our calendar, we hope it will be one of many tools to set our eyes on Jesus during the Christmas season.

As we light our candle tonight, we see the symbol of the light and ask God to light our hearts aflame with love and longing for God Himself. And night by night, this is the Story-the Story of the Big Picture of Christmas-that I want her to remember, to love, and to one day tell others.


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  • Sarah December 1, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    We’re starting some Advent traditions this year. Someone gave us the Advent Storybook and we’ve done that but not having grown up with it I figured we’d start small this year: a Scripture reading and a calendar. Blessings as you celebrate this season.

  • Erika December 1, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Beautiful reflections. So glad you are celebrating Advent–the German part of me couldn’t not do it!! But yet, it’s the anticipation of Christ that makes it such a special part of the Christmas season to me. And I’ve been wanting to reread Noel Piper’s book–it’s been a couple of years. Thanks for the prod!

    • Keren December 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      Well, you are the one who pointed me that direction! At least by giving me the book, which mentions the Jesse tree. I need your helpful info (and heritage) on the history. I too need to reread it now that we’re actually celebrating. I also need to send you a real e-mail sometimes soon; didn’t know you kept up with me here. 🙂 Thank you for the prod over 3 years ago!

  • Alicia December 1, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    I adore Caleb’s wreath, but my children love lighting the four candles so much that we’re still using our traditional wreath. If I don’t figure out how to incorporate it this advent, I know it will be perfect at Lent. We started out with traditional advent readings, but I think we’re going to jump over to Ann’s Jesse Tree devotionals too.

  • Karen Butler December 15, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    We have celebrated Advent as a family for nearly fifteen years. It is one of our most cherished traditions. Our inspiration was Ann Hibbards wonderful book, “Family Celebrations at Christmas” –she has detailed plans for a Jesse Tree for one year, and the alternate year is a banner with a Christmas tree, and ornaments that daily are added, with a little devotional story and scripture questions related worship hymns and carols. We departed from the felt plan Ann details for the banner’s ornaments, and I used fabric paint quilting and a velvet Christmas Tree instead to create a family heirloom. These are beautiful ornaments, and the children and I have stopped using the Jesse tree because we so treasure the banner–it really is beautiful,with metallic and glitter paint decorating stars, crowns, solar systems, angels, sheep– twenty- five lovely motifs used to tell the story of God’s plan through history, as recorded by the prophets and the gospels, to bring the Savior to a dark, dark world.

    I use Ann Hibbards stories because the children love them, and some really are inspired–but I adapt them for our family as well, and make them personal as the Spirit leads, so every year is not a tired exercise.

    One of our Advent traditions is a free-er hand with dessert (nearly every night!) and picnics in front of the tree. We spread festive tablecloths in front of it, and it is a joy.

    I love Advent because the children hear the Christmas story repeatedly at a teachable time. Christmas morning is not a teachable moment for explaining the true meaning of Christmas.

    I found your blog through your post “You cannot bind their hearts”, and I’m glad I did. You write very well, and I am having fun remembering what it was like when I had very young toddlers. My youngest is now seven!

    I have refused to be busy this year, and I am slowing down to enjoy these last years of Christmas with a young child. This season is so precious, especially if all that wonderful excitement is wisely channeled to the only one worthy of it, the Savior.

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