It really is the most wonderful time of the year! After a national chorus of gratitude, we slip into the magical days of Christmas. When the music we play is delightful. And the spirits of people are more cheerful. When our thoughts are turning toward others. And hope seems a little closer to reach.
The world may think it’s mere tradition that infuses these days with joy. But we know better. No matter how hard it is to find baby Jesus in the stores we frequent. No matter how much the American consumer culture tries to dominate. When God’s people are committed to the welcome of their Savior, God’s Spirit overcomes through the holy celebration of those who believe.
It’s his Spirit we sense and recognize throughout the land during these Christmas days.
Trees are already twinkling in homes. Some people have started their shopping. Others are making plans to travel to loved ones. And some of us need to digest Thanksgiving before we can string tinsel and lights.
The preparations that go into this dear holiday can put a spring to our step one day, and straight to bed with Advil the next. It’s what makes this time of year both exciting and exhausting. Well, I’d like to add just one more thing to your list of preparations. But this promises not to be something that will burden. Rather, my hope is that it will joyfully enhance your celebration this year. I invite you to embrace the days of Advent, the weeks prior to Christmas when we anticipate the arrival of Jesus. What does it mean to welcome the Christ? How can you, and those you celebrate with, more fully embrace true Christmas?
Our family is still learning. And we’re looking for ways to intentionally ready our hearts and home for the life that changes ours. So I’ve gathered some thoughts that will gather us to talk and pray and learn. And I thought I’d share them with you! Read the following introduction to This is How We Welcome, to get a glimpse of these Advent thoughts.
This is How We Welcome is a collection of Advent thoughts and conversations, intended to help us engage a season of active waiting and preparing for the coming of Jesus — the very heart of Advent. May they open our hearts and minds to new and genuine ways of celebrating Christmas and all it brings. It is possible to faithfully celebrate and welcome Jesus among the boughs of holly and brown paper packages tied up with string. May his grace cover us as we discover how.
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, with the length varying each year. This year, the first day of Advent is December 2, making it a 23 day season.
Sometimes we need reminders or visuals of the process we’re trying to engage. Advent has historically embraced these visuals through the lighting of candles and the inclusion of an Advent wreath. For this particular devotional, I invite you to create an Advent Altar, something to gather near as you lay down offerings of preparation. The altar will serve as a place to hang symbols of sacrifice and active waiting for Jesus. Below are two suggestions on how to create an Advent Altar. But here’s the thing – the conversations are more important than the visual! If you choose not to create the altar, the time together in conversation will be just as effective without it.
- A Tree — Gather branches from outside or purchase curly willow from a store like Michael’s, and place in a vase. You will hang ornaments on the branches after each time you gather for an Advent thought.
- A Window – Staple 11 ribbons of different lengths on the top of the molding around one of your windows (If you staple them on the top ledge of the molding, the holes left behind won’t be seen when you later remove the staples). Tie the ornaments on the ends of these ribbons each time you gather.
With both the tree and window altar, you will need to collect 11 ornaments that represent each Advent thought. Below, I suggest images to choose from. You may already have several of the ornaments with your Christmas tree decorations. Or your children can simply color pictures of each image and you can cut them into ornaments and punch a whole to tie a string on each one. I pieced my collection from ornaments I already had, a few made from paper and a few purchased at Target and Hobby Lobby.
- A cross
- Baby Jesus
- Mary and/or Joseph
- A stable
- A star
- A clock
- A heart
- A church, or a house, or a picture of your family
- A gift box/present
- A nativity scene or Bible
- An ornament with 2013 (Yes, 2013) written on it
How to use these words and thoughts as a way to engage Advent:
I have written 11 Advent thoughts to be read between December 2nd and December 25th. You can pace yourself as you’d like, but 11 averages to three thoughts for the first three weeks of the month, and two thoughts for the last days before Christmas day.
- Week 1 is December 2nd – December 8th
- Week 2 is December 9th – December 15th
- Week 3 is December 16th – December 22nd
- Week 4 is December 23rd – December 25th
These Advent conversations can happen between two people, a family, a small group or simply between you and God. Each Advent thought has sections to be read out loud and sections intended to stimulate conversation. The sections preceded by this E are suggestions for discussion within your own heart or as a group. So when you see that symbol, read it then stop and discuss, then move to the next one. I anticipate each Advent thought/conversation taking about 30 minutes, depending on how much you expand the thoughts. My hope is for these conversations to initiate active responses or other conversations for days in between.
These Advent thoughts can be made appropriate for any age. If you have young children, you might do less conversing and simply read the thoughts. Some of the ideas and questions proposed are mature for little hearts, but it’s good for children to hear these ideas from a young age. And you can shape the ideas and conversations accordingly and point out the concepts that make sense to them.
My prayer is that these words will initiate heart talks that deepen our understanding of what it means for Jesus to be born into this world, and into his people. For this is the very heart of Christmas.
Download This is How We Welcome and join our family in a celebration of new life discovered in the greatest story ever told.
Below is a picture of our Advent Altar. I went ahead and hung all the ornaments to capture a complete picture. You can add yours one at a time, after each conversation. I decided to hang them in random order.
This baby Jesus I bought at Hobby Lobby last week.
The wood heart is one I already had. The tree is a $1 ornament from Target and I wrote 2013 on it. And the cross is from Michael’s.
The gift box I made from paper and ribbon and the little house is from Target.
The nativity scene and wooden Mary is from Target.
I didn’t have a stable ornament so I used this African hut to represent my humble environment. The clock is made from paper and the felt star and cotton donkey is from Target.
This is easy enough for children to help put together! If you don’t have a wide enough window, you can hang the ribbons from two windows.
Advent is rather new for our family. I am thankful for the way it gathers us together, sets a tone for the month and calls our hearts into submission to the One we’re about to receive.
May you be blessed however you choose to celebrate the welcome of our Savior.