September 20, 2014

Observing Advent and Christmas: Thoughts for the Christian Family

advent.JPGMany of you are on the same journey our family has been on in regard to living out the Biblical story through the Christian year. It can be a challenge, to say the least. Denise and I did a mini-seminar today on Celebrating Advent and Christmas. It was aimed at younger couples with children who are dealing with many of the difficult choices this season brings with it. Here are some thoughts that may be helpful to those of you who are seeking to make this season a richer time in your faith and for your family.

1) Make a clear differentiation between the secular celebration and the Christian season. Don’t let children be confused about what Frosty and Rudolph have to do with Jesus. Get the secular Santa out of the Nativity scene. Abandon the idea of Christians “reclaiming” the secular celebration. The secular, pagan celebrations roots are deep and it has its own meanings and story. The occasional “contact points” between the secular celebration and our season of Advent and Christmas are superficial. Make this clear to your children and proceed forward to make Christmas about Christ and special to your family.

2) Participate in the positive aspects of the worldly celebration without guilt or needless messages of avoidance. Wherever possible, serve and love as Jesus while drawing attention to him in those “Christmas” activities that you can take part in. Our culture’s celebration of the Holiday has many positive aspects we should appreciate and affirm, especially concerning good will, family, compassion and artistic excellence. We don’t need to despise all aspects of Christmas to celebrate our own way.

3) Advent is the best possible time to introduce the Christian year to your family. There are many excellent resources on the net, especially at Ken Collin’s web site. Purchase the St. James’ Calendar or other good resources for the Christian Year. Start modestly with the major seasons and introduce Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. Move on to other days and to saints as the year becomes more familiar. There are many good books with fun resources for the Christian year. Check out, for instance, The Bad Catholics Guide to Good Living. Full of interesting information, recipes and activities for the Christian year. Also quite funny.

4) Robert Webber’s Book of Family Prayer (Out of print but available) provides weekly devotions for a family following the Christian Year. It also says “Q and A” as part of the liturgy, so it is great for children. This is a book for a lifetime of Advent and Christian year worship.

5) Help your family find the mood of Advent, in contrast to the manic acquisitional madness of the secular Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation, prayer and sensing our need of a savior. Cultivate this in contrast to the world’s mood. Then, when Christmas arrives, celebrate and feast for the 12 days.

6) Advent is a great time to take in church services of different traditions. Musical and meditative worship experiences are often available within a short driving distance. I would suggest you avoid the massive pageants that make the birth of Jesus into a spectacle and often distort the Biblical story. Look for worship that focuses on the Biblical story, not entertainment.

7) Speaking of the Biblical story, Advent and Christmas is a great time to introduce family Bible reading. Many families have problems doing family devotions, but I believe almost every family could use a daily lectionary and have a daily Bible reading. Not long chapters, but the shorter selections in the BCP or a good Daily Lectionary site or source.

8) Consider introducing your children to Saint Nicholas and his legacy of faithfulness to Jesus. There is an abundance of Saint Nicholas material on the net, including stories that children will love, his legacy as a Nicene father and many things that relate to compassion for the poor. By stressing the real Saint Nicholas, you can put the mythology of Santa into perspective.

(One family that has been doing this for several years told us they use Saint Nicholas as a way to limit gifts to three for each child!)

9) Saint Nicholas Day is December 6. In Germany and elsewhere, this is a day to receive gifts of candy, nuts and fruit in your shoes. It can be a day to do all your giftgiving, leaving the rest of the season to focus on Christ. Another good suggestion is to use December 6 as a day to do something as a family for the less fortunate, or to participate in a ministry/mercy project together.

10) Sites like Advent Conspiracy and What Would Jesus Buy? help us to remember that the season of Christ’s coming should be a time of giving more to the Lord, the poor and the Kingdom than to ourselves. The witness of Christians at this time of year is often greatly demeaned by our uncritical self-centered giving, especially in giving far too much to children.

Consider giving to ministries like Samaritan’s Purse, Gospel for Asia, World Vision and World Serve. Give to start and equip new churches and train pastors in India, Africa and Asia. Give to ministries that help the poor all year long through direct assistance, education and development. In all your giving, seek to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

11) Also consider buying your Christmas presents supporting sources that use the money wisely and support local businesses among the less fortunate. Check out the links at RevBilly.com for ideas.

12) Remember that each Christian family can decide how to approach this season in a way that is memorable, but also Christ centered and concerned for others. None of us should be telling our neighbors that the tree is evil or Santa is really Satan. In the same way, we should encourage one another in whatever steps we take to keep the Christian celebration of Advent and Christmas as a holy season and limit the influence of the world’s festival on our children.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this.

  2. I like the “three gifts for every child” idea. I think they’d appreciate their gifts more if they were only limited to three.

    However, I’m still buying stuff for my nieces and nephews, so I suppose I’m no help.

  3. I authored a blog last year called “Advent for Evangelicals.” The whole purpose behind the blog was to help evangelical families who wanted to celebrate advent, but really didn’t know how (or anyone else for that matter).

    Because of some difficult life circumstances, I’m unable to update the blog this year, but there are TONS of archives there if anyone would want to take a peek.

    http://advent4evangelicals.blogspot.com

    Not to plug the site…I just truly care about Advent and we’ve been blessed as an “evangelical” family who chooses to live out the liturgical year. We might not get it in our church, but we can create it at home.

  4. Hey internet monk! I’m popping out of my RSS feed to say thank you for this. It’s my first Advent with kids and I really appreciate this thoughtful list of suggestions.

  5. Brandon T Milan says:

    I like the 3 gifts per kid idea, as well. The secretary at my church told me that she limited what she’ll spend on each of her kids to $50 a piece. Our pastor has “limited” what he’ll spend to $1000 a piece. Its discouraging how far into the church this commercial, gift-buying culture has extended. I don’t have any children yet, but I don’t think that giving them $1000 worth of presents is the way to get them thinking about the true meaning of Christmas…

  6. Yes, thank you. It is my first Advent celebration period, having grown up in fairly fundamentalist Baptist contexts my whole life. I had no idea what to do, but wanted to lead my family in a celebration of Christmas that didn’t involve the huge marketing machine. I actually downloaded the Book of Common Prayer and was using that, but your links are also very helpful. Thanks again!

    Matt

  7. Very, very good list of Advent recommendations. My family has been trying for the past several years to make the season of advent a special time. The lighting of the advent candles has, I think, finally become a looked forward to tradition in our home and is expected as part of this season of waiting.

    One quick note – We decided early on not to do the whole ‘Santa’ thing with our kids. We don’t disparage it and we have picture of Santa around etc., but our kids have known from the beginning that Santa isn’t real. If you are doing the same, and you have a somewhat, ahem, evangelical 5 year old – you might want to caution him or her against telling the rest of the class at school that Santa isn’t real. I’m afraid there were a few upset kindergartners last week at my son’s school.

  8. Very helpful! Thanks for all the great resources.

  9. Christmas is Here Finances are Not: Enjoying the Holidays Without Finances
    Handel’s Messiah

    “He takes other men’s pebbles and polishes them into diamonds” William Boyce (1711-1779; English composer) is believed to have said of Handel.

    Handel’s Messiah gave our family an unexpected joy and enlightenment one Christmas. Gifts were few, money was scarce and I was depressed because my husband and I were unable to do the “Big Christmas Thing” for our children. No diamond ring or any such thing that year for him or me.

    Having heard this oratorio it seems like forever, we decided to use it as our Christmas theme that year. From Advent to Christmas Eve we followed the choruses of Part One; the kids did the artwork and I did the biography and scripture references.

    As I began to look into the history of Handel’s bio, I was fascinated to learn that he was in debt and depressed when he wrote Messiah. Hmmmm, I thought at the time. How symbolic! Lesson learned? We took his pebbles and turned them into diamonds that year.

    How You Can Do It!

    Make a project of reading fully the verses of Scripture found in this choral work or a favorite traditional Christmas Carol. Here’s an example.

    Part One: the first scripture in Part One of Messiah is “Comfort ye, comfort ye my People saith your God” Isaiah 40:1-3. Here God speaks in tones that are warm and tender.

    What an enlightening moment it was to read these verses and know that the Lord God was speaking comfort to His people. It was spiritually regenerating to my disquieted soul. Long months of financial strain sap one’s strength. It takes energy not to succumb to its negativity. I grabbed hold on this message of comfort for dear life.

    In the perfect light of hindsight I’m able to see that what I’d thought was a deprivation actually was a blessing. Our now adult children often share how precious those moments were; turning pebbles into diamonds.

    Huldah Gibbs Jones

  10. I realize this is totally off topic, but I just have to comment on the post above that mentioned “Our pastor has ‘limited’ what he’ll spend to $1000 a piece [child].”

    Holy bleepity-bleepity-bleep!!! I have long since realized that independently wealthy people have totally different concepts of money than I have, and $1000 to them can be equivalent to $50 to me. But still! It’s time for me to start getting my Christmas Grump on and start complaining about how commercialized Christmas has become.

    What? You say that isn’t what Christmas is about either? Oh, it’s about celebrating the coming of Christ. That’s right. I keep forgetting.

    I love the ideas you give here. We do a couple of them already, but I think I’m going to add in a couple of the others.

    I’ll also put in a plug for Gospel For Asia, GFA – they have a fantastic list of Christmas gifts that we here in America can give to the less wealthy in India and Asia. Please do check them out.

  11. ROn,

    hehe…I am Sooo there with you. We have taken pretty much the same approach and went tthrough that a couple of years ago when our oldest was in Kindergarten. He’s very black and white and had a hard time understanding how he could allow his friends to believe something that “just wasn’t” true!”

  12. Not to be a jerk, but where on earth is a pastor getting paid so well that he has a spare 1k per kid to ‘limit’ himself to for Christmas gifts?

    Regardless of whether he is well-fed off his flock or not, he’s setting a very bad example by demonstrating a total lack of perspective.

    Much of the world lives on a couple dollars per day. Spending what could be thousands of dollars (don’t know if the pastor has 1 kid or several) on presents that are likely made by some of those extremely poor people= amazingly bad example of leadership.

    Ah well. That just kinda made me twitchy at the excess being displayed by a pastor.

    PS: super blog. i am truly grateful to have found it via link-following from various other places.

  13. That pastor would have one less church member if I heard that. Show me how to follow Jesus, please. I don’t have to come to church to learn to be a conspicuous consumer.

  14. Richard Hershberger says:

    13) Encourage the business community to seperate the commercial celebration of consumerism from the Christian celebration of the Nativity of our Lord. In particular, businesses should use “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas”, so as to make the distinction clear.

  15. As an interested follower of the post and comments on Crazy for God, I was trying to comment but there was no place to do so over there. I hope you will permit me to do so here.

    Two things: 1) the book is a memoir and that means it is told from Frank’s memory and perception – honest? well? 2) how actual this story is has to be related to the previous. Hyperbole, conflation, extrapolation, rhetoric are part of the genre. Seeing things a certain way through Frank’s eyes, may not be, in any definitive sense, the way they really were.

  16. Erin Moorman says:

    In doing my own research on how to celebrate Advent and Christmas, I came across the idea of celebrating the full 12 days of Christmas before. My problem was, how to do that in a way that is still fun and meaningful for young children when the presents are already given on the first day? (Keep in mind we wanted to keep the first day of Christmas as the gift-giving day) In my mind, doing the same stuff (but without the gifts) for twelve straight days was sort of anti-climactic. Especially when most of our extended family celebrations are on or before Christmas Day.

    Our solution was to focus on the theme that Christ not only came to dwell among us and save us from our sins, but did so for the *whole world*, not just “us” or “Americans.” Yeah, it’s a “duh” statement, but how often do we explicitly teach that (those of us who don’t work among internationals)?

    Minus Christmas Day, New Years’ Eve and New Years’ Day (you don’t have to subtract those but we do for family events), that leaves 9 days and on each of those days we celebrate Christmas “in” a different world region. We just started doing this so some of these are ideas that we haven’t implemented yet, but they are all our end goal: Each day we learn a little about the region, a lot about how the various countries in that region celebrate Christmas, listen to music from that region (preferably Christmas music, but that’s hard to come by for some countries), eat food from that region, and pray for the needs of those people, remembering both our brothers and sisters in Christ who live there as well as the people who are still lost. We especially remember to pray for situations of poverty, war, and persecution. Doing this also helps carry the theme of helping international charities. (Something else we do just because I’m into genealogy, but it’s not necessary, is to set aside a day or two to focus on countries your ancestors came from. It never hurts to teach kids a little personal history.) We’ve also started collecting nativites from each of those regions to help us “experience” a little bit of each culture and appreciate their ways of depicting the Christ-Child. A local shop here called “Global Gallery” has nativities around this time of year. There’s also a wonderful website at http://www.christmas-treasures.com/ and on the home page they have a link to Nativities. All are fair trade products.

    Then it all ends on Three Kings’ Day/Epiphany on January 6th with celebrating the coming of wise men, the anunciation of Jesus as King and what that means, putting the decorations away, and talking over dinner about what we liked about this year’s celebrations, what we didn’t, and whether there’s anything we’d want to do differently next year. And if you want to do a Three Kings’ Cake, all the better!

    One last thought. Aside from a few small stocking stuffers, we also do the three gifts thing to remember the Wise Men. My dilemma was what about the tons of stuff the Grandparents were going to get? Ours daughters are the only two grandchildren on both sides of the family, so there’s no way to avoid it. We decided, instead of creating tension between family members, to present it as an example of God’s generosity. God lavished His love on us by sending His only Son for our sins. Grandparents are wonderful examples of that kind of lavishing love.

  17. The “three gifts” idea in our group didn’t come from St. Nick’s three bags of gold, but from the three gifts given to the Baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh!

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  19. Awesome blog post… have you ever see Russian Christian Icons and other religious gifts. I think you would enjoy them very much, check out this website I found let me know if you like it: http://www.lilianainternational.com