Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thoughts on Advent

"Advent is not just pre-Christmas". I saw this quote on a Catholic website while I was looking online for ideas for Advent Calendars. That website had it more right than any of the other ideas I found for "helping your child wait until Santa comes!" I saw one idea that was called an Advent collage (which initially appealed to me as a fun art idea), but the collage was of things the child wanted for Christmas presents. Every day you had your children look for another present they wanted to add to their collage.

I am so sad that this is what Advent has become to us. I'm not passing judgment on families who celebrate Santa Claus -- I certainly wouldn't do that. I'm wondering how a Christian whose heart beats for Christ alone can begin to teach their children that Christ is the Treasure, the Center and the Gift while at the same time tempting our children with the sin of greed, and laying down idols for his heart to rejoice in far more than the Babe in the manger. Considering this has caused me to think through everything I am doing this season. I know my own tendency toward materialism, worldliness and idolatry, which Carolyn Mahaney sums up so well here:

"Take the Christmas season, for instance. Every holiday I can be drawn to all things Christmassy--the shopping, buying gifts, wrapping presents, decorating the tree, baking holiday treats, attending parties and celebrations. Of course these things are not wrong in and of themselves. They can be delightful gifts from God. But I can be tempted to desire them more than the most important thing--regardless of the season: sitting at the Lord’s feet (Luke 10:38-41). And then I wonder why my heart feels so dull come December 26th."

Is that you, too? Maybe you will say with Carolyn: "This holiday I don’t want my soul stuffed only with decorations, shopping, and Christmas cookies. I want to make every effort to drink deeply of God’s presence so my soul will be truly satisfied."

My friend, I could not agree with you more. Can I encourage you to celebrate Advent with your family? If you want to do a "count down" method with your kids, today is the first day (more ideas for that later), but tomorrow is technically the first Sunday in Advent. I don't pretend to know how everything is done according to the Liturgical calendar, but I can tell you what Josh and I do (taken largely from suggestions by Noel Piper in her book Treasuring God in Our Traditions). We put 4 candles by our Nativity set, one for each Sunday of Advent. On the first, you light one candle, and we sit down together and read aloud a Scripture passage (or several passages) about Christ's coming. They are usually a mix of Old and New Testament passages, and they may focus on Christ's first coming or his second coming. You can find an idea of what to read here. We may sing a song, as well. Each Sunday you light more and more and it grows brighter and brighter as it gets closer to Christ's arrival.

I have one of Noel Piper's Advent Calendar's which sadly Desiring God has stopped making for now. I wanted to reproduce her idea for the families who came to my story hour yesterday, and it turned out well, so I wanted to pass the idea on to you to adapt for your own. First, I used the lovely letters provided by Martha Stewart for this craft (rats, my secret's out -- I use this for EVERYTHING). I cut out and copied the letters to spell out "MY GREATEST TREASURE IS JESUS", which happens to have 25 letters. On the back of each letter, I put a little picture (google image search) from the Nativity scene -- M=Star, Y=Angel, G=sheep, R=goat, E=Shepherd and so on. I laid them all out on a posterboard so that the letter with Jesus on the back ends up in the middle (the middle "S" in Jesus) and put a sticker on the letter to remind me that that one was to be flipped over last of all. So every day, the child can flip over one letter, and you are re-reading your calendar all the time, constantly reminding your family that the greatest treasure is Jesus! I know it's simple, but I guess I was hoping that the simplicity in it can help instruct children in loving Christ supremely. I have a few extra copies of the letters with the pictures on the back (this is honestly what took me the longest) if you would like me to send them to you. Just leave me a comment saying so (first come first serve!). I laminated the letters and attached velcro to each side as well as the posterboard. Maybe I can put up a picture before too long.

I think I'll be writing more on Advent in the future. Here is a book of ideas that might be helpful to your family: Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas Ideas from A to Z. Let me know what your traditions are for keeping Christ at the center of it all.


Anonymous said...

I would love to get a copy of the letters. What a great idea!

Molly Carlisle said...

I'm going to share this post with some friends on a message board. I hope you don't mind. :)

Gretchen said...

MR -- sure, I'll send those to you on Monday (sorry for the delay, but they're at work). Can you e-mail me your address? Or send me a message on facebook.

Szyd -- OF COURSE I don't mind. You're the best!

Name: Karen said...

Good Post. I was going to look into the history of advent after my tea is done on I more excited than ever.

Thanks! Hugs to you my friend!

James and Christen said...

I have been feeling the same way! But, I must say, I am not feeling the pressures of an American Christmas here. That could be because God has already been working in my heart and changing my focus. I feel so burdened to teach my kids the real meaning of Christmas. I have made figures for the advent calendar and am winging the daily Christmas story until I get a copy of yours. I really want to do the calendar each Sunday in my S.S. class and just several pictures each week.
The last few weeks of Nov. I studied Christ's death and now I am on His birth. I feel like the more I am in the Word, focusing on Christ the more likely I will be to pass on that passion for Him to my kids.
We are doing the Advent candles too and I am thrilled with how excited they are about it.

Thanks for all your great ideas. I am glad the Calendar worked so well in your reading group.


Gretchen said...

Karen -- blessings to you!

Chris -- Sorry I haven't sent it to you yet! I left my advent calendar at work. Forgive me, I'll try to put it up ASAP. Been sort of overwhelmed lately. Thanks for understanding. I'm so happy your Advent is going well! Love ya!

brianne said...

Hi Gretchen,

I talked to my sister last night. She passes along thanks to you for your ideas. She thought her husband would really love the book on David Brainerd. The book is in stock at my LOCAL :) bookstore, and I'm excited to give it to him.

Have you heard of R.C. Sproul? My sister was curious if you had heard of that author.

Again, Gretchen, MANY thanks for your help.


Josh said...


Oh, yes. Sproul is great. I have not actually read any full-length (grown-up) books by him, but he would be a writer your brother-in-law would like, I'd imagine. I am a fan of his book for kids The King Without a Shadow. Something to keep in mind down the road if they have kids! :)

Thanks for letting me know!
and thanks for buying LOCAL! :)

Gretchen said...

Well, Brianne, that was actually me, Gretchen writing that. Josh was logged in. :)

Paul Sr. said...

We have "The Night of the Giver" as a tool to teach our five, soon to be six, children the joy of purposeful giving. Each family member has their 'night' as the giver. They plan the whole evening & give their gifts to each family member. The only gift they receive is the gift of giving. They now delight in giving & Christmas morning is reserved for the adoration of Christ. I have a sermon on this entitled "Seasonal Insanity" that I preach every couple of years. It outlines the tradition in detail.
Paul - your cousin-in-law

ReBenMyers said...

I found your blog by googling Advent ideas and I was wondering if you ever posted pics on your My Greatest Treasure is Jesus idea. i would love to see how it looks (I am kinda visual!). I have a 3yr old, 2yr old and a 10mth old. This is the first year for us to do Advent and I am looking for ideas. I really liked yours and I just picked up Noel Piper's book at a Ladies Retreat this past weekend. Please let me know if you have any more resources that would be helpful. Thank You,

Anonymous said...


Wondering if your 'cousin in law' Paul Sr. might be willing to outline the 'night of the giver' tradition, esp. the Christmas morning adoration time (as I can see that being a let-down in our family if not handled rightly).

Or, if he has written it elsewhere, might you be able to link to it somehow (I'm not tech saavy so maybe that isn't possible).

Also, I agree with the dear one who wrote about visuals... :)

grateful for the 'small graces mounding into a heap of good cheer',
HveHope *-:¦:-
(Sarah Clarkson, "Yesterday")

PS: I might look around to see if you have an email address that I can send this to... :)

Anonymous said...

Gretchen, I'm looking to reproduce Noel Piper's Advent Calendar for our family this year and I'm wondering if you'd be able to e-mail me the Story that goes along with it? Very, VERY much appreciated and thanks for your awesome ideas! My e-mail is