Noel Piper asks some excellent and thought-provoking questions...
How will our home look if our celebration is a picture of anticipation and waiting for God's plan to be completed, a picture of our joy in the salvation he has begun for us? What visible things will fill our house as we celebrate what God has done through Jesus?
As I've pondered those questions over the past few days, here are some ideas I've come up with about how we can "demonstrate our gratitude for the promises that were fulfilled when God gave us the gift of his Son and anticipation of and preparation for Christ's coming again..." (N. Piper)
Advent candles go way back... like hundreds of years back. Four candles signifying the four weeks of Advent in the run-up to christmas. Each Sunday, another candle is lit... it signifies the hope, the expectation - the countdown that we're looking forward to a major historical event. This sense of expectation and joy is at the heart of what Advent is all about. My four candles are out on display, just waiting to be lit (the first one will be lit on December 4th and we'll probably read the first part of the christmas story as we light it). The christmas story is all about light - the light of the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem to meet the Light of the world...
I've started a new tradition this year. Every year, on the first of December, Ava's going to get a christmas book to enjoy in the run-up to christmas. As children, the 1st of December was always VERY exciting for us... it wasn't just the day we got to open our advent calendar, it was also the day we were allowed to pull out our christmas books, listen to christmas songs and watch christmas videos (Raymond Briggs' "Father Christmas" and "Muppet Christmas Carol" being the favourites!). An advent book can be a fun christmassy story, or something more thought-provoking that points back to the birth of Jesus. What a wonderful way to prepare children's hearts to remember the Saviour... more on recommended children's christmas books to follow!
How about combining the two? Every day, hidden in the advent calendar is another artefact/figure to add to the manger scene. By the time you have Mary, Joseph, Jesus, three wise men, some shepherds and sheep, a star, an angel, a manger, an innkeeper and a tonne of animals, you can easily find 24 objects. I intend to build up the manger scene as advent goes on with Jesus being placed in it on Christmas eve. As the scene begins to build, the story can unfold as each artefact or character brings the next bit of the christmas story. After hunting everywhere for a nativity set that had 24 parts, I gave up and decided to make my own. On Sunday evening I sat down with a box of Fimo, felt and cotton buds and made the first 13 figures... more to follow!
This was an idea I picked up from Noel Piper's book. What are we actually celebrating at Christmas? Jesus birthday! And yet so often, we forget the birthday person! Jesus said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me"(Matt 25:40), so we can use our "gift to Jesus" to bless an individual, a family, a missionary or a charity. Doing this, again, helps the family remember that it is Jesus' birthday we're celebrating, and stops it from becoming purely a present-opening festival!
No, I'm not talking financial offering, but the fact that every member of the family, young or old, has something to bring. On Boxing Day, my Dad's side of the family has a big get-together. Over 30 of us descend on a family home and share a day of catching up, incredible food and present opening. One thing we have also always done is have some kind of performance. When us kids were young, we loved to put on shows and pantomimes - these were often times of good fun for us (and probably lots of yawning from the adults - "not ANOTHER show!") but they were also times to reflect on God's goodness as people brought songs, played their instruments, shared poems, told stories and did sketches and generally "remembered" what christmas is really all about! Advent can be spent thinking about and preparing your "Christmas Offering"... how can you help "remember" Christ's birth on the big day itself?
I hope this has given some food for thought about how we can use these next four weeks - this advent period - as a time to prepare with exciting expectation for the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, and prepare our children's hearts to understand what Christmas is really all about. And that this year, as a result of our Advent preparation, Christmas will have a little bit more meaning...