ad·vent (part two)

We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our 2-part series on how you might prepare yourself and/or your family for Advent. In last week’s post, Pastor Ryan shared several ways in which he and his family draw their attention to Christ during the holiday season. This week, we’ll hear some ideas from the Heller family. Some of these ideas may have a familiar ring to them, but we’ll leave it to you to decide who stole the ideas from whom.

Many of the things we do come from Noel Piper’s book Treasuring God In Our Traditions, which is available as a free PDF.

 We have an advent calendar that we made when the kids were little. Every day we read part of the Christmas story from the Bible and a story by Noel Piper, then we place that day’s piece on the calendar. This has become a very special tradition in our family, since we began this when the kids were small. Even though our children are older now, they still look forward to reading it together every night and are excited to take their turn placing an animal, star, angel, shepherd, etc., on the calendar. As the scene in Bethlehem unfolds day by day, the anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birthday grows. [For links to advent calendars, please see Part 1.]

We try to have a nativity set or picture of the nativity scene in every room of our house (yes, including the bathroom!) so that we have every opportunity to remember Christmas is about Christ’s birth. We always have at least one nativity set that our children or visiting children can play with, and we have always tried to purposefully make that a time of engaging them in the story of Christ’s birth. Who are the characters? What were they doing and why? What was God’s plan in all of this?

Our children have drawstring bags (we call them shepherd’s pouches) that lay underneath our Christmas tree during the holiday season. As a family, we decide who we are going to give a special gift to at Christmas. The children save their money throughout the year, especially as Christmas draws near, and put it in their pouch. We don’t require a certain amount, but we tell them to pray about what the Lord would have them to give. On Christmas morning (or whenever we celebrate gift-giving as a family), the money in their pouches has been replaced with a wrapped gift. Bryan reads the story from the Bible of Christ’s sacrifice in coming down to earth and in giving His life on the cross, and of Christ’s great reward for his obedience. Because of His great love for us, we are to follow his example and sacrificially love others, and God promises blessings and rewards for those who follow His example. Although giving sacrificially does not always mean a physical gift in return, this is merely a picture of what God has done for us and the blessings He gives for living in obedience.

On our dining room table are advent candles. There are five candles in all, four for the month leading up to Christmas (lighting a new one each week), and the fifth to be lit on Christmas Day. When the kids were little, this helped build the excitement and help them see how close we were getting to Christmas day. Now, they enjoy lighting the candles themselves as we talk about how The Light was coming into the dark world!

Dinner is also the time we read through advent devotional readings, which have come from a variety of sources. Desiring God has two free books that are daily readings for advent: Good News of Great Joy  and The Dawn of Indestructible Joy. Ligonier also has articles and devotionals that we have used in the past. Articles I remember vividly include “Christmas According to the Angels” and “Christmas According to the Apostle Paul”. The Ligonier articles/devotionals take a bit more work to sort through than the pre-made Desiring God books. Another source is Sam Storms, who has a three part series called The Women of Christmas. Also, Storms has an article called “Six Gifts from God” that could be broken down into six separate readings.

We have a Christmas tree that we keep in the living room that is decorated exclusively with cross ornaments. This is to remind us of why we needed the birth of Christ. The reason He came was to die for our sins.

Our family’s favorite Christmas tradition is probably our Christmas picnic. We spread a Christmas tablecloth on the floor and everyone chooses their favorite foods (it has been fun to see the children’s choices change as they grow, from pop tarts to shrimp cocktail!). As our room is lit by candles and the Christmas tree lights, we listen to songs of Christ while we read of his birth. After prayers of thanks, we watch a film about his birth, graduating from a cartoon to a full length movie as the children have grown older.

Many thanks to our pastors and their families for allowing us this window into their homes this holiday season. We hope that you have been helped by this series and that you might find yourself implementing a few of these ideas in the coming weeks as you seek to steer your thoughts and the thoughts of your family to Christ.