What do you remember most about past Christmas celebrations? In American culture, no holiday is more loaded with tradition and emotion than Christmas. All of us have treasured stories of Christmas memories. And, we’ll be glad to share them with anyone who will listen.
Our traditions typically include decorations, food, trees, lights, cards, food, gifts, parties (‘fellowships’ if you’re a Baptist), music, and did I mention food?
Some of our rich traditions developed accidentally from unplanned circumstances.
Some were handed down by parents and grandparents. Others were birthed out of intentional planning. Recent generations seem to be more deliberate about the latter.
Early in my marriage I looked at our family Christmas traditions. Like all young couples, we faced the challenges of pleasing both sides of the family at Christmas. But we wanted to build traditions of our own.
Furthermore, we experienced the same seasonal challenges still heard today: “Christmas has become so commercialized,” “We’re too busy to enjoy Christmas,” “The focus of Christmas should not be on us.”
I’m sure you can add a dozen more complaints to this list. We hear it every year, but we tend to do nothing about it.
In 1979 I received a gift from an IMB missionary serving in Germany. It was a very decorative advent calendar. I had heard of Advent but always brushed it aside as something liturgical churches did. I learned it is a very popular tradition in Germany, the homeland of my family name.
I decided to do some research on the significance of the Advent season. The internet was not available in those days, so your basic, old-fashioned footwork was the only method of study available. 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.
The word “advent” means “coming.” It is a celebration of 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 the promises of God.
For the Christian, this is a time to keep the focus on Jesus every day. 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!
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. From literature I found in my research, we developed a short devotional, focusing on the scriptural prophecies leading to the first coming of Christ – His birth 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, 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 one of our IMB missionaries. Sometimes we wrote them a note
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 on this pastor’s small salary.
Would it surprise you to learn that God provided? 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.
We shared this with others in the church, and they took up the practice.
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 have served in the last 30 years, hundreds of families have personalized Advent celebrations in their homes. The impact has been unbelievable. Our discovery of this very old Christmas tradition was remarkable. And maybe some believers have helped our children see the difference in the way the secular world celebrates Christmas and the way believers celebrate Christmas. Merry Christmas!
(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.)