Our friends the Whitneys made me want to share a little about our family's observation of advent...
Growing up in the Nalle home, advent was an important season every year. I believe that it was my mother who built and championed our traditions in this area, and I am so thankful that she did. We had two advent calendars--both of the paper variety, with 24 small, numbered doors hidden in a picture. One of the calendars featured short Bible verses behind each door; the other showed very brief prayers in verse. We used those calendars for so many years that a couple of the doors wore out and fell off. (Jacque, Lena and I never wanted our turn to open the doors to fall on a night with broken doors.)
Every night in December we gathered around our advent wreath, round and made of evergreen branches, to remind us of God's eternity. Each week we lit another one of the four candles set within the wreath. I remember learning the hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" at a young age. It was my first taste of the longing for Christ's coming which characterizes this season. I ran across this moving and apt description of the reason for this longing. (Sorry--it's a little long, but so good.)
Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves... It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.This year Meg is old enough that we decided to inaugurate our own advent celebrations. Since our girl is still so small, we have started out very simply. Each night we turn off most of the lights in our home and light candles. (We are currently in week three of advent; thus we currently light three candles). Meg is fascinated by the candlelight. Without us even telling her, she understands that the time when we light those candles is something special. Suddenly she becomes quiet, very still and utterly attentive. I think she is somewhat awed by the whole thing.
We sit down at our dining room table with our beautiful advent calendar in front of us. (A dear friend of my family gave this to us as a wedding gift--so thoughtful!) We read together from one of the Christmas books that I brought home from the library. These books vary in the ways they tell the nativity story, but the important thing is that they all recount the biblical narrative of the night on which Jesus was born. They also have pictures. My hope is that Meg will absorb little tidbits of the reality as she soaks in images and words that show and tell the story.
After our reading, we move to the calendar. It came with a pamphlet that tells the nativity story progressively. There are a few sentences for each day--lines which tell the part of the story that relates to that day's piece. The pieces, hidden behind the numbered doors, come out and hang in their own places on the Bethlehem scene. Each day we read the story from the beginning, as Meg solemnly points out each piece with every mention of its name. Star, shepherds, sheep, angels, wise men, gold, frankincense. Then we read that day's new bit of the story, and Meg pulls out the day's piece. Then I hang it up as part of the scene.
We decided to close our advent time by singing together. Each night we sing the first verse of "Hark the Herald Angels." I love this song not only because it retells specific bits of the story that Meg has just heard, but also because it tells why the story is important:
Glory to the new born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful all ye nations rise!
Join the triumph of the skies!
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Hark, the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!
"God and sinners reconciled." This Jesus, of whom angels sang to the shepherds, came to bring sinful men into loving relationship with a holy God. What joy! What triumph! What reason we have to sing!
After our song, we encourage Meg to repeat a little prayer, something to the effect of, "Jesus, thank you for coming as a baby to be my Savior." She doesn't say all of the words right (or at all), but she's hearing them. She's hearing about this Savior. She's hearing that He came for her.
And that's it--advent at the Wilcoxes'. Simple and repetitive. It's a small start--but I pray that God will use it to plant seeds of big truth in my children's hearts.