As the shelves in stores quickly fill with Christmas decorations, kitchen gadgets, and toys galore, we are reminded that Christmas is coming. Although there is plenty of time before the Christmas season begins, our culture is sending the message to start getting ready NOW.
The Christian faith holds numerous stories about waiting, anticipation, and getting ready. Our ancestors had to wait a very long time for the coming of Christ. The Holy family, shepherds, and wise men went on a very long journey to find the Christ child. Our faith stories remind us that while it is hard to wait and to journey on long difficult roads, these times present us with an opportunity to pay attention to how God is moving in and through us and others as we travel towards Bethlehem and prepare to greet the promised child. This is what the season of Advent is all about- getting ready, waiting, anticipating, and looking forward to the birth of our Savior- Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.
As we wait, our culture provides us many opportunities to get swept up into the chaos of the season and the whirlwind of holiday preparation. Advertisements flood all media including TV, radio, internet, billboards, in-store advertising, and the list continues. If you Google “top toys Christmas 2014” your search results will include 290,000,000 websites you can surf as you try to navigate your Christmas list planning. Families are the audience to the constant streaming of marketing campaigns that encourage them to want, buy, and spend more. Children create lists for Santa and people ask the question: “What do you think you will get for Christmas?”
All the while, somewhere… in the distance… quietly playing we hear: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” We remember the journey of our ancestors, how they waited, prayed, struggled, cried, begged, and continued forward with hope. The drone of this familiar Advent hymn pulls us out of the media whirlwind and gives us an opportunity to take a deep breath as we picture Abraham, Sarah, Job, Isaiah, and many others all journeying to the places God called them. We take another breath and the winds of chaos begin to die down as we see the Holy family, the shepherds, and the wise men journeying to the manger. Our focus is brought back to the star that shines above the stable calling us to hear again the words that came to Joseph in a dream:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
Our bodies respond slowly as we put one foot in front of the other and begin our journey towards the manger, holding hands with the children who come alongside us, bringing only the essentials that we can stand to carry on our backs. We move towards the star for we know that lying in that manger is the promised Child, God’s beloved son, who comes to set us free- free from chaos, free from the busyness of the season, free from the overwhelming stress brought on as we try to keep up with our culture. In that moment we are grounded once again in the Word, the Promise, and the Call- and we receive the peace that only God can give as we continue towards the manger preparing our hearts to welcome the child that waits for us. And we hear: “Christmas is coming- how are you and your household getting ready?
This question guides each of us, no matter our age, through the Advent and Christmastide season. There are many ways to get ready and many tools that help us on this journey.
- Pay attention: Invite families to pay attention to how they give and receive Christ’s love during the Advent season. Then encourage all members of the family to write, draw, or create something for each family member to give on Christmas Day that shares how that person showed them Christ’s love during the Advent season. Families might want to create a special time to share these gifts and affirmations, concluding with a family prayer: “Thank-you God for our family, thank-you for all these good gifts that help us know you better. Bless and protect our family this Christmas season and throughout the New Year.”
- Take Time and Wait: Advent is about waiting. It is hard to wait. Encourage families to talk about and share what makes waiting hard. Invite them to think together on things they can do during this time of getting to stay focused on God, sharing God’s love, and feeling the peace that only God can give.
- Do Holy Work:
- Wonder: Invite families to wonder together during the Advent season. When a person points to an item and says I “Want” that- use this as an opportunity to ask: “I wonder why you want that?” “I wonder what you would do with it?” “I wonder if this was the only gift you ever received if you would want this item or something else?” Encourage children to create a list of their wants and then as you get closer wonder with them about which items they truly “want,” “need,” or would like to give to someone else.
- Worship together: Encourage families to worship together at least once a week. After the service invite them to reflect together as they share their favorite parts, their least favorite parts, and one moment they want to remember.
- Serve together: Invite your congregations and families to share God’s light by serving together.
- Organize an all church Advent project that invites all persons to help other people. Ideas include: adopting a family and inviting persons in the congregation to give items for a Christmas meal or wrapped gifts to go under the family’s tree. Invite families to shop together, have children help with the shopping list as families decide what to give another family in need. Children can help wrap gifts and make ornaments for shut-ins, a local retirement center, friends, neighbors, and family.
- Encourage families to participate in a family Advent Invite children to help brainstorm ideas and ways to share the light of Christ with others.
- Practice a 1:1 giving discipline: As children start to create their own lists encourage them to write next to every item what they “want” an item they want to “give” or a person they want to “share God’s love with.” Encourage all family members to give/donate one item for every gift received.
- Bless Each Other: Take time this advent season to bless each other. Invite families to write notes, letters, and/or make cards telling their family members hoe they feel- reminding their family members that they are a blessing, a gift from God.
A special note about Language: So often the language surrounding children throughout the Christmas season is about receiving. Children create lists for Santa. People ask: “What do you want for Christmas?” When the gifts are opened the follow-up question becomes: “What did you get for Christmas?” This Advent, encourage your congregations and families to change their language to be about giving and sharing Christ’s love with others. Ask: “How are you getting ready for Christmas?” “Who do you want to share God’s love with?” “How will you share God’s love with others?”
May God bless you, your families, and your congregation this Advent Season.
Resources for Church leaders and Families to use this Advent Season:
- Journeying with God and Each other (Newsletter that includes practical ideas for family faith formation)
- Staying Connected (Newsletter for church leaders in ministry with families)
- Passing It On, Kara Lassen Oliver
- Come Worship With Me: A Journey through the Church Year by Ruth Boling
- Planning for Advent from Carolyn Brown
- The Complete Guide to Godly Play: 20 Presentations for Winter by Jerome Berryman
- Advent with Children from Monique McBride
- A Different Kind of Christmas – Living and Giving like Jesus by Mike Slaughter
- Seasons of Faith: Teaching the Christian Year by Marcia Stoner
- Mary Had A Baby – An Advent Study Based on African Spirituals by Marilyn Thornton and Cheryl Kirk-Duggan – although it is written for adults, this resource is easily adapted for children
- Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Spiritual Lives. Karen Yust.