I stared in disbelief at the online advertisement for Starbucks products. As part of the famous coffee company’s “holiday” promotion they invited me to purchase an official Starbucks® 2014 Advent calendar that tracks the 25 days leading up to Christmas day.
If you’ve paid any attention to the “war on Christmas” in recent years, and if you’ve noticed how quickly most large companies act to distance themselves from any semblance of Christianity, perhaps you understand my amazement. Starbucks is not known for embracing Christian beliefs. Yet, here they are promoting the first coming of Jesus to the world. Kudos to Starbucks!
Maybe some people see Advent as a fairly neutral “holiday” celebration. Some celebrate it merely from tradition and are clueless as to its rich meaning. But we know better.
The word “advent” means “coming.” The traditional celebration of Advent points to the first coming of Jesus to this world, focusing on the anticipation for Messiah in the heart of every ancient Jewish worshiper and the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promise of a Messiah for His people.
For the Christian, this is a time to keep the focus on Jesus daily in the middle of a season that keeps drawing our attention to material items. As we relive the unbridled anticipation of the Jews, the value of the Savior’s birth comes alive. But we know that His first birth is not the end of the story. Advent reminds us that He is coming again!
I did not grow up in church that recognized the Advent season. Churches with a more liturgical leaning have typically given attention to this annual celebration.
But as a young pastor I received a gift from an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary couple serving in Germany. I was the pastor of their home church at the time. So Warner and Roberta Bumgardner sent a very decorative, German Advent calendar to our family in 1979. I had heard of Advent but always brushed it aside as something only liturgical churches did. I learned it is a very popular tradition in Germany, the homeland of my family name.
I began a multi-year investigation into the history of the Advent tradition. The Internet was not available in those days, so basic, old-fashioned footwork was my method of research. The more I studied, the more I wondered why evangelicals were missing out on all of the rich meaning and pure joy of advent celebrations.
Pam and I began a tradition of celebrating Advent in our home with our son. For each day of the four-week Advent season, we met every evening for about 15 minutes. Each evening a new candle was lit in the long advent log on the mantle. As we came closer to Christmas day, the light in the room grew brighter.
From literature I found in my research, we developed short devotionals that focused on the scriptural prophecies leading to the day Emmanuel, the Light of the world, was born in Bethlehem.
This daily family time – at the busiest season of the year – developed into our most treasured aspect of the Christmas season.
We read the scriptures, we sang, we prayed, we lit candles and we enjoyed a daily family-building experience. Our hearts shifted from the secular to the spiritual.
That shift had an effect on our gifts to international missions. Each day of Advent as we prayed for people in our community, we also prayed for specific IMB missionaries by name. Sometimes we wrote them a note of encouragement.
But we also prayed for ourselves. We asked God to allow us to give more generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO). Our resources were small, but we thought “Why not ask God to guide the process of redirecting our priorities?” Why could we not give as much to international missions as we were giving to ourselves?
The daily Advent devotion slowly refocused our priorities until we were asking God, “Will you provide for us to give $1,000 to LMCO this year?” That was so far beyond our resources! There was no way that was going to happen on this pastor’s salary!
Would it surprise you to learn that God provided the amount we asked? Our young son was able to see God’s provision while the Father was shaping all of our hearts for the unreached of His world. It is impossible to describe how our family Advent celebration shaped every aspect of our lives forever, not the least of which is our giving to LMCO.
We shared our practices with others in the church, and many of them implemented it in their Christmas celebrations. The church began weaving the celebration of Advent into worship services. People came to Sunday School classes every week with exciting reports of how their family was blessed through daily Advent celebrations in their homes.
Year-by-year, the movement grew. The church’s MOPS (Mothers Of Preschoolers) ministry published a daily Advent family devotional guide. Our Lottie Moon offerings grew. Our attention was drawn to the birth of Jesus Christ.
In every church I served in the last 35 years, hundreds of families have personalized Advent celebrations in their homes.
The impact has been impressive. Our discovery of this very old Christmas tradition was remarkable. And maybe some of us have helped our children see the difference between the way the secular world celebrates Christmas and the way believers celebrate Christmas.
I believe this is one way we can respond to Milton Hollifield’s plea to disciple our families.
I also believe a family Advent celebration can make a big difference in our Great Commission assignment. Please read IMB President David Platt’s appeal in the Nov. 22 edition of the Biblical Recorder. Pray for our missionaries and pray that your family will give your largest gift to LMCO this year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Please share your Advent experiences with us. To learn more on how to make the most of the true meaning of Christmas, visit our Celebrating Advent page.)