In my book Not Just on Sundays, I share a story about how one year, I secretly laughed my way up to do a family Advent reading in church—not because Advent is funny, but because I felt like a hypocrite telling the congregation to take rest in the anticipation of Advent when I hadn’t found rest that particular season. Not one ounce of it.
And ever since then, I’ve been in pursuit of Advent. Unlike the pursuit of finding Nemo, the orange clownfish that needed his friends and father to locate him many years ago in the infamous Disney film, Advent doesn’t need to be “found” in order to be rescued. It is there whether or not I choose to observe it. But if I looked for it, paused for it, and asked God about it, I just knew I could find it in more meaningful ways.
And I figured out a few things along the way. It’s been a journey. There’s been a learning curve, and I’m often a slow learner.
1. I give myself permission to not put up all decorations. I don’t even have to decorate each room. Twenty-one years of accumulating decorations and traditions pile up and start demanding to be followed. I can’t keep up. It’s okay to let some of those go. What I did as a newly married 20-something decorating those first few Christmases does not have to define how I choose to make the house merry today.
This year, we are minimalists: tree, some candles, advent setting, wreath, stockings.
I do not have to set up a Biblical times village or Thomas Kinkade-like warm scene of a street and candle shop in ceramics to usher in Christmas. Jesus did this for us. A simple baby in a manger, a humble birth, among the animals in a barn.
2. Advent observations can be few and still incredibly meaningful. The LEGO Advent calendar is fun. So is a box of pop-open windows with chocolate inside. Starbucks has even joined the Advent celebration with a chalkboard of tins dating through each day of December. Reading the Christmas story each day on a book ornament is sweet. So are lit candles each Sunday, with a time of songs and Scripture. We like reading through a Bible times Advent book (see these awesome Advent books by Arnold Ytreeide).
What isn’t fun is feeling like we have to do all of these. Legalism. Bah! So we got smart this year and chose about three of those.
3. I do not have to be a Christmas card overachiever. If writing 100 cards puts me in a Jesus Love frame of mind, then awesome! I love to write personal messages to folks. But if it’s a year when life is frenzied, and meeting that self-imposed or societal obligation will cause me angst, which takes me away from dwelling on why my Savior came, I don’t need to do it that year. Striving is never our goal. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. If we are doing something that feels like striving, we are not finding His true rest. And Advent is about resting in the gift of Him.
Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaking, ESV
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I also can enjoy Christmas cards other people wanted to send me and not experience self-condemnation for not sending them out—or not sending them quickly enough, or on time. (I have to admit the first one to arrive in the mailbox Thanksgiving weekend always taunts the overachiever in me and fills me with angst all at the same time, even though I love reading handwritten notes.)
4. I am avoiding the mall from December 1st on. For me, crowds of people drain me. Others are energized by them, but for me, Advent rest means escaping the retail scene in December. What is super fun for one person is someone else’s dread, so I’m just agreeing not to stress out over traffic, parking lot spaces, and massive amounts of people (especially the ones coming out of their kiosks to approach me if I want this hair extension or that flying helicopter—I know it’s their job to do that, but the introvert in me always wants to run).
5. I do not need to throw a cookie exchange, attend The Nutcracker, visit three living nativities, or attend five Christmas parties to mean the season is important or here. It’s already here. It’s important with or without me. I can jump on and grab what I’ve found, or I can let it pass me by because I’m getting dolled up or food-prepping for too many December events on the calendar. (Don’t get me wrong: Those events are all fun. It’s more about choosing a few wisely than stressing out our family calendar and feeling forever frenzied, thereby missing the point, despite our good intentions.)
6. What That Other Mom Over There does has nothing to do with my Advent. Comparison is a holiday slasher. It sucks the joyful spirit out of festivities and celebration like a thirsty kid getting every last bit of that Blue #1 food coloring Icee out of the paper cup. [Even though it has nothing to do with Advent really, don’t even get me started talking about Elf on the Shelf! I’m not morally opposed to it; it’s a cute idea. Many of my friends have so much fun with it. I’m just afraid to start myself up yet another Mombligation I will fail or that will take years off my life stressing about achieving.]
7. The reverse of No. 6, Advent is not about my expectations on other people. It’s not about whether we were included in the neighborhood white elephant party, were invited to Aunt Nancy’s for Christmas dinner, received gifts from a certain family (because after all, we give their kids gifts every year for 17 years), and “can you believe the tacky blow-up Santa across the street? And she didn’t even put up her window candles this year! She’s really slacking. At least we’ve got those!”
Advent is actually the opposite of that. It’s everyone coming to the baby in the manger from the same humble position: bowed low. When we are bowing low, we are only looking at the position we came from—our own stance—and we cannot be concerning ourselves with what those around us are doing.
That’s the position of Advent.
8. Advent worship might look different every day. Today, I might be able to read my kids part of the story of Jesus. If we can’t sing around the table that week, we might enjoy “O Come All Ye Faithful” while riding in the car. Prayers might be geared toward children around the world needing to know the gift of Jesus. One day it might be a mention of thanks for Christ, or a journal entry. It could be sharing why and what our hearts celebrate with a friend who is curious but doesn’t share our faith.
Advent is every day in remembrance, but it is not a huge project or effort. It’s living from what Jesus has transformed inside our hearts.
9. No matter what, I don’t “do” Advent. It’s not an action verb on my part. It’s not something I achieve. God did this. Advent came to me. In a manger. Crying like me. Feeling pain and joy like me. Tempted like me. Dying for me.
10. Jesus wants me. The person. The relationship. The conversation. The yielded heart. The lover of His truth. He doesn’t care if my tree is up, my presents wrapped, if I’m a last-minute panic-shopper or the most organized mom on the planet. How many Christmas services/recitals/plays I attended or participated in make no difference in our relationship. He loves me right where I am, and stopping to spend time with Him, being still, listening for Him to lead my life, telling Him everything like a Holy BFF, coming to Him like a child: This, this is what He wants.
What do you think? What does Advent mean to you?
Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
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