I’m slowly coming out of my concussion fog. I’m thankful for the prayers, kind words, and support of so many. I’ve spent many days in dark rooms, a bit stir crazy at times, but thankful that the stillness is helping the headaches decrease. And, while I’m slower than I’d like to be, more than anything, I am convinced that these past weeks of headache-filled days are part of His unwavering goodness to me. As Thomas Brooks noted, “God makes afflictions to be but inlets to the soul’s more sweet and full enjoyment of his blessed self.”
As I make my way back into the land of light, I’m realizing that we’ve quickly moved from one season to the next. Cinnamon red candles, thick green garlands and an array of ornaments fill every store. TV commercials present snow-filled scenes, roaring fires and busy elves making toys in Santa’s workshop. The sights and sounds of the season are upon us. They quietly whisper: Christmas is coming.
This past weekend, my husband climbed into the attic and one by one brought down our Christmas boxes. Each bin contains memories of our lifetime together as a family. As the tree was trimmed, my children eagerly recalled family vacations, preschool creations, and favorite childhood photos. Christmas music filled the air, hot chocolate was served and new memories were added to the old.
Looking Back and Looking Forward
As my children look back, they are also looking forward. In the midst of remembering, they also wonder, “What special gifts are coming? Will I get that hoped for something under the tree?” Old memories of past delights can be recalled, while future joys are cloaked, wrapped and waiting for that special day. Looking back and looking forward – this is exactly what the season of Advent is all about.
The word Advent means “the coming or arrival.” As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed. Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby. His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold. The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.
As believers, we look back, but we also look forward. Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree. More is yet to come. As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world. We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new. More is yet to come.
Preparing Our Hearts
And yet, in the midst of a busy season, it is often difficult to keep our focus set upon Christ. In the flurry of activities (from baking, to shopping, to celebrating with friends), how do we prepare space in our schedules to savor our Savior, reflect upon His coming, and wait with abiding hopefulness for His return?
For our family, each night in December, as we gather around the dinner table, we pull out ornaments from a special box. Years ago, a friend of mine organized a Jesse Tree party (see here for an example). The Jesse Tree recounts the story of redemption using twenty-five ornaments as symbols to represent different Bible stories, all pointing to the coming Messiah.
My friend sent out a list of all of the different Jesse Tree ornaments. Every woman chose one and made twenty-five of the same ornament. During the party, each participant placed one of her ornaments in everyone else’s box. At the end of the night, we all went home with a complete, homemade Advent Jesse Tree set. For me, each of these ornaments is a special reminder – both of the story it represents, and the friend who fashioned it for me.*
Starting on December 1st, my children excitedly pull out a miniature tree and the box that contains our Jesse Tree ornaments. To guide our readings, we use an advent devotional entitled, The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Lambert Smith. It provides a devotional and Bible passages that correspond with the ornament for the day. Another excellent Jesse Tree devotional option for families is Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. I used her book The Greatest Gift last year for my personal devotions and plan to do the same this December (she uses different ornament symbols, but a similar overview of the Biblical narrative).
After reading the devotion for the day, my children eagerly take turns placing new ornaments on the tree. Day after day, we remember the story of waiting, watching and hoping for the Messiah to come. As we reflect upon the stories, our family learns the beauty of the Biblical narrative – how in the midst of many small stories, there is one larger story that all the others point to. By December 25th, the tree that was once barren is bursting with fullness.
We began using the Jesse Tree when our oldest daughter was three years old. She is now fifteen, her brother is twelve and our youngest is nine. For twelve years we have pondered these stories, enjoyed time together as a family and been blessed to reflect upon the coming of Jesus. These Advent meditations allow our family to look back and rejoice, “Christ has come!” They also encourage us to look forward in joyful expectation, “Christ will come again!”
*If you don’t have time to get together a group of friends this year, there are also easy coloring options here, here, and here. Also, if you have a Jesus Storybook Bible, there’s a free advent guide here.