Listen, I know it's November. I know Thanksgiving is the next holiday. I really, really, really do know it. And I know it because I love it.
Seriously, one of my favorite times of the year is Thanksgiving and it's not just because no one has to do presents. (Anyone who has ever discovered gift giving dead last on the list of the Five Love Languages and suddenly realized why Christmas makes them break out in hives will understand.) I adore the focus on gratitude, the sweet simplicity of the culmination of the holiday being a meal, and last, but certainly not least, a parade that has showtunes.
With that being said, I'm already listening to Christmas carols. Judge away. I am free in Jesus, yall.
But also, I feel like gratitude is a good place to break ground on Christmas. If we are doing this right it should set us up for a joyful and focused Christmas season.
I'm staring out my office window to a tractor plowing up the field next door. They must. The wind has been blowing hard and cold the last few weeks. The soil just get swept away in the wind if the farmer doesn't do something to get it ready for the next season.
November is a little like that around here. We spent several years just getting swept away in the wind of the coming Christmas season. There was a cold gust of supposed-to that blew us right over, a flurry of busy and tired that left us wondering if this was really what it meant to make the magic of Christmas happen.
So we stopped. Well, actually I stopped. I spent a couple of years in complete Christmas rebellion. I wasn't having it. Any of it. Russ had to throw himself in front of the Christmas tree to keep it from getting tossed. I was done. Done on a level that would make even the Grinch blush.
And then I discovered a different way.
It seems strange for someone who had dropped all expectation of a peaceful and meaningful, and yes, magical holiday to embrace this idea of creating the whole season around expectation. But here is why it's so important to talk about now: Gratitude gives us Orientation for our Expectations.
In other words? It helps us to expect the right things.
There is no magic as big as the miracle of incarnation. Emmanuel. God with us. There is no twinkle light on the planet that shines as brightly as the Light of the World breaking through to a broken world.
So, we began an Advent practice.
It has grown roots and branches over our years, but it has never depleted us. Instead it leaves us fuller, stronger, and richer than we were before. Much like that farmer out my window the cover crops not only protect the ground, but pour into it. But it requires planning. The groundbreaking work of gratitude.
So I thought I'd share with you a few different levels of Advent practice to help you prepare for the coming season if you too find yourself swept away, depleted, and exhausted each year.
Level one. Just a tester to see if this whole Advent thing might work for you and your family, if it actually changes anything. You already know you're going to be busy and you just need to know if you can manage it at all.
It has just the right amount of stories to read one each day starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving to make it to the birth of Jesus just in time for Christmas. Sally Lloyd Jones tells the story in such a way that the thread of expectation is pulled on each page. Each story could be read in less than five minutes, and will speak to adults just as much as it will to children.
Set a time each day for the family to gather and read. Bedtime, breakfast, or the in the car. If you just need somewhere to start, start here.
Bonus: The Audible version is on sale for 1.95 right now, and it is beautifully done. (You don't have to have an Audible subscription to buy and use the book!)
I adore this book, but the reading is far more poetic than The Jesus Storybook Bible. My kids couldn't hang with it until last year. However, it is set up in much the same way: there is one story for every night of advent starting with creation and culminating in the birth of Christ. Honestly, this book brings me to tears multiple times each year. Every. Single. Year.
Okay, you're in. Or at least you want to be. You know something has to give, you want desperately to change to direction and focus of your Christmas season, but it all seems like it will just make it more overwhelming. You need more than entry-level, but less than deep end.
I did this with my kids when they were little. Sort of. We mostly read the devotionals, and we did the crafts when I could handle it. (Remember five under five?!?!) I found it to be a very practical, hands on way of helping my kids get the symbolism of Christmas, plus I loved that it gave me a physical prompt when I wanted to refocus their hearts in the season of crazy.
Obsessed. We read our first one last year and everyone, including Russ, would end up on the edge of their seats. If that doesn't evoke the expectation of the season, I don't know what does. These are storybooks that follow different children in the middle east at the time of the birth of Christ. They actually all interlock so as you read them each year you will meet familiar characters. I just cannot describe how much I love these books. The time commitment is a little longer, and they have great resources for further Advent practice including candles, recipes, and scripture readings.
Level up. This is where my family sits. While we don't do a full-blow traditional practice of Advent, we do want there to be decidely more traditional Advent and less cultural Christmas. We know it blesses us to say no to more common Christmas practices to draw near to Jesus in the crazy.
I have the incredible honor of getting to be on the launch team for this study and I am so excited. They have studies for men, women, and families. I actually have the women's study to do as a personal practice this year. This is an actual Bible Study that point to Jesus. This is an opportunity to engage deeply with scripture to find Jesus in the season. The questions are
I just want to be clear, there is no way we could have handled this a few years ago, I simply didn't have the discipline. But now? It's just about perfect for us. It is deeply rooted in scripture, song, and traditional practice. It has recipes and handicrafts for a hands-on element as well as prayer and responsive reading to engage hearts and minds. (Bonus: It includes copywork, so I suspect there will be more than a few days when I just count it as school altogether!)
How do you celebrate the Christmas season? Do you feel swept away or swept up in the right things?