Saturday, December 1, 2012

'Tis the season

The tree is up.

Stockings are hanging from the mantle.

Lights twinkle cheerfully around our front window once the sun goes down.

It is December 1st, and we are looking and feeling quite festive here in the Crouch household. I am even (almost) ready to order our Christmas photocards! But this year, we are doing something a little different.

It is easy to remind my grown-up self that Christmas is not about presents and the lights at Rhema and stuff.  (Don't even get me started on the monstrous amount of credit card debt that is wrapped so prettily under millions of Christmas trees across the world.) A little harder to remember is that Christmas is not about feeling merry and bright, drinking hot chocolate (/ mulled wine!) in front of a cozy fire, and time spent with family. It's not even about the look of joy and excitement on my kids' faces when they wake up and realise it is Christmas morning.

Obviously I'm not saying those things are bad. We are buying our kids gifts, we will be taking them to see the lights, and I do love a mug of homemade mulled wine when the weather is cold! :)

But I don't want to get so sidetracked by the festive fun stuff that I miss out on something even more amazing. And I definitely don't want my kids to grow up with Christmas memories that only involve the festive fun stuff.

So starting this year we are observing advent. I am so excited. This is something that was stirring in my heart and mind last year, and I just didn't quite manage it. But this year it is happening! And I am learning as we go. There is so much richness in this season of anticipation. A friend shared this resource with me, and I am loving exploring it! Listen to this:

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

Big quote, I know. But isn't it awe-inspiring?

So this year, here is how we are celebrating Advent.

Each morning during breakfast we are lighting our advent candle and reading a daily advent scripture, either from my Bible or from one of Anna and Levi's children's Bibles. I have the corresponding Jesse Tree printables (you can find them here) for Anna to colour and display on our kitchen window. We are talking about the scripture as we read it, since metaphors about the root of Jesse are still more or less lost on my three year old :)

Since the focus of our advent celebrations is the gift of Jesus' birth and second coming, I want to incorporate the sentiments of giving and excitement into our December. So I have come up with a list of advent activities that I wrote on pieces of paper and put in a gift bag for Anna to select from each day. It was so much fun to think up 24 activities that captured the spirit of advent! For example, today's activity was to bake and decorate cookies which we will share with someone outside of our family. Other activities include choosing some of our toys (and for me, clothes) to donate to people needier than ourselves, giving a gift to a stranger, and a variety of Christmas-themed games and crafts that will help us to give the gift of our presence to each other.

I also gathered up all of our Christmas-themed books and stories and CDs, and the pieces to the kids' Little People nativity scene. I wrapped all of the books & CDs and put them in a box under the tree. Each night we'll unwrap one and either read or listen to it, and in the 10 days leading up to Christmas Day (since we happen to have 10 pieces to our set!) we will unwrap one character from the nativity scene.

I am so excited to see how our advent season goes and how the kids gain a richer understanding of the weeks leading up to celebrating Jesus' birthday. But more than that, I am excited to spend this season celebrating God breaking into history and my life, and giving Him the gift - small and imperfect though it is - of a heart turned more towards Him.