By: Rachel Rogers
Do you feel bombarded this time of year by pictures of happy families in matching sweaters, spending quality time in beautifully decorated homes? My own experience of the holiday season tends to include fewer matching sweaters and more hectic moments searching for the “right” gift, with my cluttered tree in the background. (Have you ever noticed there are never slightly dilapidated homemade ornaments on the trees in those pictures? Never.) Just the word “Christmas” tends to bring a cacophony of emotions in me ranging from excitement to dread, usually landing on overwhelmed. I find myself longing for everything to slow down, for time to enjoy the more meaningful parts of the season.
One of my favorite Christmas decorations to unpack is the Advent wreath. As I put it on our table, it comforts me that in December our hectic and cluttered family will slow down for just a minute (on most days), as we light a candle and read a few verses to remind ourselves what the season is really all about: Jesus, God’s promised One, coming to earth as a baby, the fulfillment of so many prophecies. These family advent devotion times give us some perspective back when we are tempted to get caught up in the shiny, shallow beauty around us.
Maybe you, like us, struggle to do regular family devotions (just setting aside time to read and learn from the Bible as a family). For our family, it is usually just plain hard to work it into our schedule. May I suggest that the Advent season is a great time to start? I get it: the last thing anyone needs is one.more.thing. on their holiday “To Do” list. But if you’re going to start reading the Christmas story is a beautiful starting place. And if you actually pull off reading regularly during the holiday season, how much more possible does it seem to keep it up after the holidays?!
“Advent” is simply the weeks leading up to Christmas day. The word literally means “coming” and although the origins of the celebration are unclear, the ideas around it are really beautiful. Timothy Paul Jones says, “The purpose of the (advent) season was to anticipate the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.” God’s people had been waiting for the Promised One for hundreds of years. We remember that when we slow down during the Christmas season. Jesus promised to come again and we are waiting for Him now. I am fairly certain I do not focus on the waiting very often. Sometimes I wonder if we even know how to wait, let alone if we know how to teach our children how to wait. Waiting is hard. Waiting for Christmas is good practice for some of us. Reading God’s Word together and remembering what it all means while we wait, is good too.
(If you want to learn more about “advent,” Timothy Paul Jones has a helpful article, “Why Celebrate Advent?” (Read it here.)
I’d love for your family to join ours this year as we attempt to read through our devotional. There are several advent devotional books or lists of readings out there that make it easy. (See the list at the bottom for starters.) If you decide to incorporate the wreath and candles, I should warn you: my kids fight regularly about whose turn it is to blow them out. Just saying. Cool tradition, lots of arguing. The main thing to remember about all of the little books and lists is that they are just tools. If they work for you, use them. If not, find something that does work. No matter what, don’t give up. Getting into God’s word together is worth fighting for particularly when Christmas can easily be swallowed up in shallow consumerism. So break out the matching sweaters! Put up some beautiful decorations and plan some quality time together! Encourage one another with the grand truth that right in the middle of our dark sins and deep sorrow God took on flesh and came for us.
Here is a short list of Advent devotional books you might want to check out. My family will be using “Good News of Great Joy” again this year. It’s nothing fancy, but it gives us some structure and is easy to use. Typically a devo book will give you a passage of Scripture to read each day and a quick commentary on it to help you connect the ideas. Don’t get bogged down in the “every day” part –if you miss a day, just pick it up when you can. Here are a few ideas to get you started. If you find a great one, let me know.