I didn’t grow up believing in Santa. I knew presents came from parents and that Santa and Rudolph, while fun, were storybook characters. (The Abominable Snowman? Scaaaary. My two brothers and I raced to hide behind the couch when he roared onto the TV screen.)
Advent in Object Lessons
I instead grew up with Jesus. I knew he was real. He loved me, heard my prayers, and had come to earth as a teeny-tiny baby. My mom purposely kept our family’s attention on him with the Luke 2 story and, eventually, a cloth nativity set. (She held a pragmatic purpose in mind, too: my brothers and I would cease from playing with the porcelain figures.)
Every day leading up to Christmas, one of my brothers or I rooted our hand around a box, eyes closed, hoping to grasp the small, baby Jesus. Baby Jesus! How we wanted him to appear. He always waited to make his presence known until Christmas Eve, though. Day after day brought forth woolly, gray sheep, a Wiseman, Joseph, a donkey, maybe an angel with bright orange, untamed hair.
No baby. Where could he be? We waited and waited, excitement and anticipation building until only one item remained in the box: baby Jesus. He had come. One of us carried him aloft in the palm of a hand, nestled him on the manger set between Mary and Joseph. Perfect. Baby Jesus lay exactly where he was supposed to, where he had chosen to lie years ago in a pristine, beautiful garden.
Advent in Words
As I grew older, new Advent traditions complemented the old. We memorized the Luke 2 passage, first beginning with the proclamation of good news to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people!” (Luke 2:11, NASB).
A year or so later, we worked on memorizing more scriptures. We learned to pronounce “Quirinius” correctly and followed Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. There, we joined them in the stable and shared in the shepherds’ joy as they returned to their flocks.
The memorization work sometimes held rewards; Miss Rhea, an elderly woman in our church, sewed new angel ornaments every year and gave one to each of the kids who could recite the Christmas passage. For my brothers and me, Advent wasn’t a matter of wreaths and candles, a custom I barely recall following as a kid. It stood as a matter of words, handcrafted angels, and cloth figures placed beneath the tree.
Advent in Daily Practice
These days, Advent and Christmas come alive in some of the same, and different, ways. I put out the cloth nativity set, which shows its age—the cow’s legs shake as they attempt to stay upright. Even so, the set works its charm. It reminds me of childhood and rekindles wonder in my heart. Jesus, who created the universe, limited himself to human form to rescue his people, to rescue me. How can I not stand still in awe and amazement? I become a shepherd, marveling at the good news of Jesus lying in the manger.
A new tradition holds, too, one courtesy of The Austin Stone Community Church. They publish an Advent devotional every year, one for adults and one for families. (The family version contains additional activities, such as ornaments to color for the tree.) The devotional even includes activities for missional communities, our terminology for small groups. It provides recipes for mealtimes that encompass what we are called to remember as we await the coming of the Messiah.
Traditionally, the devotional comes in a print format—something I love as a person who needs her books and marginalia. My church, however, is trying something new this year: a digital format. I saw the initial stages of the work (I have connections with the communications team.) and love it just as much as the print version. The church can do so much more with the digital platform. For instance, they can embed videos, audio files, and artwork to accompany each day’s reading.
The Austin Stone introduced the new format before and after Thanksgiving to prepare people for the official launch on December 1 and will be available online and mobile. I look forward to the resource but believe I’ll supplement it with last year’s devotional or my current journal. It will help prepare my heart, head, and hands for Jesus’ arrival this Advent season.
Come, long-expected Jesus! We’re waiting for You.
How do you celebrate Advent? Share your traditions from home or church in the comments.
Whether you do Advent or something else, we’ve got plenty of resources to help:
- Join our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site for all kinds of Christmas resources, including a webinar, a Christmas planner template, social media graphics and more.
- Check out God Rest Ye Stressed Communicators: Planning Christmas for Your Church for more Christmas help.
- We’ve made a list of all our Christmas ideas, resources and examples—and checked it twice.