Even before Thanksgiving many are already decking the halls and getting gussied up for Christmas, but now that our annual turkey feast is over the rush is really on. Black Friday begins the night before Friday actually arrives in some stores, Saturday is more of the same and then there’s Cyber Monday – every vendor and store out there is urging you to buy something or better yet, everything. Santa parades get the kids in the spirit and tree lightings are in style from Rockefeller Center to every small town common across America. But I’m not ready yet.
Admittedly, the secular world has done a very effective job of high-jacking a Christian holiday, and lots of people who have never heard of the Christ Child and many more who have heard but don’t believe in Him are happy to jump on the Holiday bandwagon of spending, parades, lights, decorations and gifts. But our family is Christian and while the most holy of our holidays is not Christmas, December 25th has been chosen to mark Christ’s birth, and it is still an important day of reflection and prayer. So, back when my children were small I started three family traditions to help them understand what the holiday is all about.
The first was the lighting of the Advent wreath.
On the first Sunday in Advent (which happens to be November 29th this year) our four weeks of getting ready to celebrate our Lord’s birth begins. We light our Advent wreath – in our family it is always 3 purple candles and one pink, but some have all purple or blue and even red. When we sit down to dinner that first night a single candle in the wreath of 4 is lit, and a special prayer is said and the same on each night of the week. On the second Sunday two candles are lit, then three and finally all four until Christmas Eve.
After dinner the second tradition began with the drawing of names for our Kris Kindle. It’s an old custom and celebrated in many countries. Most people in the United States call it Secret Santa, but they often don’t connect the gifting with the coming of the Christ Child. For us it was not about giving gifts, but rather doing something nice for someone else in the family every day from that day until Christmas Eve. When the kids were small the tasks were simple, sometimes making the bed of the person whose name you drew, or helping a parent with a chore without being asked. Sometimes we did leave little surprises on each other’s pillows. But the point was to take the time to do something thoughtful for someone else in the spirit of a holy Christmas.
Finally we set up our crèche – or manger scene. Our crèche was a little different because it was empty except for a single cow. Mary and Joseph were placed on a windowsill as far away as possible in our house. Then, each night the children would get to move Mary and Joseph a little further along on their journey to “Bethlehem.” On Christmas Eve, just before we left for church, Mary and Joseph would finally reach the stable and be placed inside, and then we all piled into the car. I was always the last one out of the house because it was my job was to place the Baby Jesus and the angel into the crèche when no one was looking. When we returned home the kids would rush inside to see if the Baby Jesus had arrived. They got to put the shepherds in the stable before hanging stockings. And later, on the 6th of January, the Kings completed the tableau. I knew I’d scored points keeping Christ in Christmas for my children when my youngest daughter was two. We were standing in line at the grocery store when a grandmotherly woman asked my little girl if she knew who was coming to her house soon. She proudly replied, “Yes! The Baby Jesus is coming!”
So for me, this next four weeks will be hectic with preparations for the big day, but in a few quiet moments each day, I will take time to celebrate the anticipation of the day and the magnitude of the gift that Christ is for Christians everywhere. I will hang greenery and lights outside, but I’ll be putting a candle in my window to let the Christ Child know He is welcome in my house. I will shop and wrap and ship gifts to family scattered far and near, but I’ll also send gifts to soldiers, Marines and sailors stationed far from home who won’t be with their families over the holidays. I’ll bake cookies for neighbors and friends, but I’ll also take the time to think of those less fortunate and try in some small way to be Christ’s hands on earth and do something nice for shut-ins and the homeless. Advent is all about the waiting – the becoming prepared to welcome my Savior. It is all about the anticipation for the biggest gift God could give me and Christians everywhere. In the words of Robert Brooks:
“How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”
Wishing you a blessed Advent...