Advent, which means ‘coming’ in Latin, is the period of four weeks before Christmas. Some Christians use these weeks as a special time to prepare for Christmas and to focus on the season’s true meaning. For our family, Advent has always been a special time, so when I thought about writing a blog post for this time of year, I knew I wanted to write about our family’s Advent celebrations. I was expecting to write about what a sweet, special bonding time it was, once again, for our family. And, while it has been this way in the past, this year, with two teenagers in the house, and a son away at college, God had other plans.
Last night, after a very long weekend of my daughter’s ballet performances and very little family time, I found myself in the garden alone, in the dark, using the light from my cell phone to cut greenery for an Advent wreath. As I sat at the kitchen table assembling the wreath, still alone, I confess I engaged in a bit of a pity party. This was so different from the sweet, family time making the Advent wreath had been when our children were young.
Ever since my children were very little, we have had the tradition of celebrating Advent. The first Sunday of Advent, we would go into the garden to collect bits and pieces of evergreen bushes and trees to make our Advent wreath, telling them that the evergreen branches were reminders of Christ’s eternal life. Sitting around the kitchen table, watching their little fingers work to make bundles of leaves and berries, while Christmas carols played in the background was a sweet, special time for me. Later in the evening, when it was dark, we would sit cuddled on the couch, while my husband read first from Isaiah and then from Matthew. After singing a couple of Christmas carols, my husband would talk about the “great light” and the darkness it overcame as we lit the first candle and, one by one, turned out all of the lights in the house, to see how bright the light from one candle could be. After we blew-out the candle we would sit, quietly in the dark, contemplating life without Christ’s light in our lives. It was a sweet, special way to celebrate Our Lord’s birth.
This year, as I sat working alone, thinking about how different this Advent was with my older son away at college and two un-engaged teenagers upstairs, quite frankly, I wondered why I was even bothering. ”Nobody cares,” I thought to myself, continuing in my self-absorbed train of thought. As I was twining the greens around the wire form, the sharp smell of the bay leaves I was using suddenly reminded me of the fine spices that had been given at Christ’s birth as a foreshadowing of those that would be used at His burial. The prickly, sharp juniper reminded me of His crown of thorns and the nails that pierced Him. As I twined rose hips into the wreath, I was reminded of His blood shed for me. Not a very “Christmas-y” train of thought, I know, but God knew it was what I needed to stop my pity-party and focus on why I was doing what I was doing.
Later that night, as we gathered on that same couch with our much bigger, far- less enthusiastic children, to celebrate the first night of Advent, my husband read the same verses from Isaiah and Matthew, and we sang the same songs, talking about the light and the darkness. I wish I could tell you it was like something out of Hallmark movie, with my children embracing me and thanking me profusely for making the wreath and taking the time to continue the tradition of Advent… but it wasn’t. Instead of cuddling on the couch like they used to, they went upstairs to finish homework. And, while I truly missed the little pajama-clad bundles they used to be, I was content.
Like so many things in this life, this was a moment not about me, or my plans, but about God and His. Many years ago, a good friend told me that so often in parenting, it is not about how God uses us in our children’s lives but rather, how He uses them in ours – to make us more like Him. The alone-ness of wreath-making was one of those times. I wanted a “Hallmark moment.” God planned a sanctifying moment. Last night, while I wanted to believe what I was doing was all for naught, God brought me to a spot where I could focus on the immense sacrifice that was put into place that first Christmas. As John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This Christmas season, whatever our family traditions, I pray that as believers, we can choose to be a light that shines in the darkness of our world.
If you would like more information about Advent and how to incorporate these celebrations into your family’s Christmas celebration, Focus on the Family has some wonderful resources that can be found here. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/holidays/advent-calendars/knowing-him-by-name-advent-calendar
Julie A. Churchill
Director of Development
NorthCreek Academy and Preschool