You’ve likely seen the chocolate countdown to Christmas calendars. Or maybe a Lego one or something similar. Those are for Advent; keeping track and patiently awaiting Jesus’s birthday.
Advent is the Christian practice of preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas, and ultimately, for Christ’s return. My churches growing up didn’t really have traditions around Advent. To be honest, none of the churches I’ve ever attended have put a big emphasis on it. That’s not to say no one practices it, just that we don’t really do a lot with it on Sunday mornings.
After Vance and I got married, we started attending a Christmas Eve service with his parents at their tiny little, traditional, country, Methodist church. Most of the people there are at least a generation older than me and they hold tightly to tradition for this service. For years they sang the same songs, in the same order, with the same scriptures and the same people. One of those songs and traditions was the lighting of the Advent candles and the singing of the Advent song. I’d never seen or heard either until then. But over the next two decades, I got pretty familiar with it.
At some point, someone in a homeschool group started talking about prepping for Advent and then the tradition of the Jesse Tree was mentioned. This got my attention. I loved the idea of sharing the big stories of the Bible with my family every December. Of using the Old Testament narrative to point us to Jesus. To bring things together for us and to help us really know what and why we believe as we do.
So we bought a book and started. I don’t know now how many years we have done this, but I know it’s been a lot. My Facebook memories today reminded me that five years ago Abby and I were making Jesse Tree ornaments. We’ve had a couple different times where we have done ornament exchanges with friends. It’s a tradition that has been harder as the kids have gotten older. December is busy. Shopping, parties, wrestling, basketball, church. They all play a big part in this month. (Unless it’s 2020 when everything has been cancelled.) So it’s been hard, but it’s also been worth it. In the midst of all that busyness, we carve out time for family and Jesus. We cuddle together on the couches and take turns reading from both the Bible and the study books we used.
As time has passed, I’ve thought long and hard about writing my own Advent devotional. This year I’m going to make that happen. I’m way behind but there’s no time like the present to make a new start. Maybe I’ll even share a few of them with you here. We’ll see.
As we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth this month – in this year that has been, shall we say, closer to Hell than to Heaven – let us not forget what really matters. It’s not elections or viruses or lock-downs or fake news or even racial reconciliation. (Don’t get me wrong, all of that is important. Keep doing the work. Fight the good fight.) What matters for eternity is not our Facebook status, but the status of our souls. If our souls are full of the Holy Spirit and his goodness, then as salt and light, we should be fighting with everything we have to preserve the world God created and to shine the light of truth into it. Without right hearts, it is all in vain anyway.
My prayer for you in this Advent season is that you will have a right heart. That your soul will be at peace as we end this mess that has been 2020, knowing that a new calendar isn’t going to magically make all of the chaos go away. That you will be able to celebrate and look to the Christ Child and see then Eternal King he was born to be.