Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?
Welcome to Week #1 of Advent Reflections. In all honesty, I struggled to get this blog started. But, I just started writing, and got out some of my frustration, and then deleted it! I believe God then gave me the words to write. I hope you are blessed by what He gave me to share.
Growing up, there were a lot of fun Christmas activities. I always liked helping my mom decorate the Christmas tree. There were some favorite ornaments that I liked to hang. Our tree was never ‘finished’ because my mom would always be rearranging the ornaments, getting it to be just-right. I do that now to some extent, but I like to say that it’s done! Each ornament has a story. I enjoyed making cut-out Christmas cookies, especially the decorating part (and the eating of the cookies). My grandparents usually came over on Christmas Eve, which meant that we got to open their gifts. Yay! My other grandma often stayed overnight, so she was with us first thing in the morning.
I think I was in high school before we started going to a Christmas Eve service. My favorite service was at our little, very old but beautiful, church up on the corner close to our house. At the end of the service, when it was time for the candle-lighting, we moved into a circle around the perimeter of the sanctuary. The only light was the glow of the candles reflecting on the stained-glass windows. We sang a song—probably “Silent Night”—and I could see all the faces of my church family. I was filled with warmth and awe. There was something so impactful about that moment that it is etched into my memory. It was also at that church that I first heard about Advent and got to participate in some of those traditions, like making Chrismon ornaments and learning the meaning behind the symbols. I like the time of preparation. Oh, yeah, and Christmas caroling with cookies afterward!
Fast-forward to adult years. Christmas Eve service is still one of my favorite aspects of the season. After a service of Scripture readings, congregational carol singing, and special music, it is the time for candle-lighting. Starting from the front, the flame is passed from person to person while we are singing “Silent Night.” The sanctuary lights are dimmed and candlelight glows brightly but warmly. As the last lines of the song are completed, and the candle flames have reached the back of the sanctuary, the first chords of “Joy to the World” begin. “The Lord has come!” The excitement builds for those of us who know what comes next. As we get to the last verse, “He rules the world with truth and grace….” everyone raises their candle high into the air. The light in the sanctuary glows even brighter. It’s Christmas now! I don’t think I have ever gotten through those moments without shedding a few tears because it is so moving and beautiful.
When I was working as a teacher, I always enjoyed the last few days before vacation. Most times the teachers did not give a lot of work that week, we got the kids caught up on back assignments, and it was a time to just enjoy them as people. I was able to do some fun holiday activities, with an educational twist, that were a lot of fun. We did holiday puzzles and learned about Christmas customs around the world. Even now I sometimes hear about a cultural tradition and remember that I learned it when teaching it to my students. Earlier in my career, all the teachers would wear Christmas sweaters, shirts, ties, etc. Then it changed into “ugly” sweaters, but it was still fun. I loved when we did Secret Santa exchanges.
In recent years, on Christmas day, I have gone to some friends’ house for a small gathering of delicious brunch and good company. Then I head out for my family’s get-together. We have rotated who hosts it, which is a good idea! A few years back we decided to not spend so much time preparing food and started doing cheese/crackers, cookies, fruit, breads, etc. People can eat whenever they want. This has worked out really well. And of course, opening presents. When my nephews and niece were little, their gifts were a surprise. Then we moved into me taking them out shopping and they could pick where they wanted to go for lunch or dinner. I still buy some surprise gifts! This was a great time for one-one conversation and learning about stores I had not frequented before!
Christmas music, decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, and wrapping presents are all fun, but in all reality, sometimes it is overwhelming, especially when I was working. There were many times that I was finishing wrapping at the last minute even though every year I got an early start. Some years I have chosen to not put up my tree and only do limited decorating. That usually comes with mixed feelings, but it is a good way to have more energy to focus on what matters relationally and spiritually.
I am very aware of people who struggle at this time of year. People have family or personal issues that are heightened during this time. Depression and anxiety increase. For some it is the first Christmas since someone passed away. Maybe the anniversary or memory of a death, a divorce, or a falling out happens during the Christmas season. Rooms filled with colorful decorations might also be filled with tensions and hurtful words. There might be a mixture of joy and pain, fun and stress—that is probably the reality for the majority of people.
More than any other time of year there are high expectations which are hard to live up to. More than any other time the reality that life is not exactly what was expected is glaring you and me in the face. But, more than any other time of the year, there is the birth of hope.
There is the birth of Jesus! “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people! For there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:10-11) (NKJV). “And you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins…they shall call His name Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:21, 23) (NKJV). This is the expectation that God wants us to have. His people had been waiting for centuries in expectation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus the Savior. He has come! We can expect Him to save us from our sins. We can expect Him to be with us. It is promised. It really does not matter if the tree is up or if the presents are all wrapped perfectly (or not at all) or if our lives do not look like a beautiful Christmas card.
This is a season to spend time in the presence of Jesus. Allow Him to heal your hurts and restore your soul (see Psalm 23). Try writing a letter to Jesus telling Him about your struggles. Stop in the midst of the busyness to see the faces of those around you—look into their eyes. Hear their hearts, not just their words. Love them with God’s love and let them love you. As you look at the Christmas tree or wrap presents, name your blessings and give God thanks. Listen, really listen, to the words of Christian Christmas songs. Read the Christmas story in the Bible. Read it again. What parts stand out to you? What might God be saying to you in those passages? Find a Bible or book study that speaks to your heart.
Maybe you have happy Christmas memories, maybe you don’t. Maybe this year’s celebrations are filled with happy expectations, maybe they aren’t. No matter what the situation, Jesus is still your Savior. He loves you. He was born for you. He is still God with you.
When you decorate for Christmas do you set aside a specific time to do it all or are you always adding more throughout the month?
With many restrictions this year due to COVID in what ways do you plan to observe Advent and Christmas Eve if Candlelight Services and Small Group Gatherings are not an option?
What are some ways we can reach out in love to those who may be experiencing grief or hardship this Christmas? If you yourself have been in that position in the past what were some positive things that others did to show you that they cared?
This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.