Most people think of baby Jesus in the manger when they think of Advent, but that is only half the story. Advent, which means "coming", isn't simply about remembering the first coming of Christ, the Incarnation in that small, backwater town of Bethlehem. Advent points us forward to the Coronation, when Christ returns in his full glory and the Reign of Christ is perfected among us.
Somewhere in the canned Christmas music, the screaming advertisements, the gunfights over parking spaces (seriously, I was there and saw it), we forget . . . We forget that there is more to this life than what we may be experiencing. What I love about celebrating Advent is that it reminds me of what is true and what is real. I become as a child again . . . expectant . . . waiting with longing . . . utterly convinced of the magic of Christmas . . . the miracle of Christ.
These are some of the ways that my family and I celebrate Advent - our season of magical, expectant waiting of the coming of Christ to our home.
Advent Wreath Each year, my family and I go outside hunting "greenery" which we use to make an Advent Wreath. We place our 3 blue candles, our 1 pink candle around the circle of the oasis ring and one large white pillar candle in the middle. Each night after supper, we light the candle and have a short devotional. We have even taken an "Advent Prayer" and put it to music ourselves and we sing it each night. My kids love it. I like to turn out the lights (so you can't see the dirty dishes) and enjoy a moment of quietness as one of the children lights the candle(s) and reads about preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ. Here's how to make an advent wreath.
Nativity Advent Calendar. When my oldest child was 2 years old, I purchased a Nativity Advent Calendar that you use from year to year. It's magnetic and by the time you open each of the doors, you have created the nativity scene. It is a family tradition that the baby Jesus is ALWAYS in the 24th slot. My children, who are now 12 and 10 still keep track of "who had baby Jesus last year." We do it first thing in the morning, which helps us all get out of bed. Here's some beautiful wooden and magnetic Nativity Advent Calendars, but pricey. You can find them cheaper.
Advent Family Readings/Devotions. We have slowly collected our own "Advent & Christmas" library. These special books are packed away with the Advent & Christmas decorations and only come out for Advent. Some are Advent devotional stories, like the Christmas Rose, others are simply beautiful stories of giving, like Christmas Day in the Morning, or family favorites like Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. The importance is that it gathers us together again, as a family to anticipate and remember. Oftentimes you can find great Advent devotionals. Julia Corbett has written a Trinity Family Advent Devotional which is available in the entryway at Trinity. Her devotional uses a nativity set as the focal point of the Advent devotions with questions to contemplate each night.
Gradual Christmas Decorations. I'm a "Put the Tree up the Day after Thanksgiving" gal and I'm narried to an "Advent Nazi" who would prefer that the tree not be decorated until Christmas Eve. Our compromise has been one in which we put up the tree, add lights and put up a few ornaments - but only blue ornaments (since that is the color of Advent at our church). The tree looks a little empty. There is room for more. And the more comes, the week before Christmas, when most, but not all, the blue comes down and we add all the decorations. At this point, the tree looks like a lavish feast of ornaments. But the star goes on top of the tree on Christmas Eve. I'm happy, my husband is happy and my children think this is normal.
Gradual Nativity Set. The idea of the gradual addition of the figures of the Natvitiy set (or creche) works the same way as the tree decorations. To begin with there is only the stable, the manger and the animals in the manger. Then each week, more figurines are added - usually on Sunday, when we light another candle. Baby Jesus doesn't show up until Christmas Eve. And the Three Wise Men are wandering all over the house (literally, because they came from far away) and don't make it to the stable until January 6th, for the Feast of the Epiphany which ends the season of Christmas in the church calendar.
Cynthia Stelle, Trinity's Church Administrator, reflects on celebrating Advent with her family. While raised a Southern Baptist with no exposure to Advent, she somehow became an Episcopalian - and is even married to an Episcopal priest! Cynthia shares her appreciation for Advent and what a gift it is for her and her family.