On Sunday evening we heralded the beginning of the Advent season by gathering together as a family for dinner in our dining room, lighting the first candle in our Advent wreath---the “hope” candle---and reading the ancient prophecy from Isaiah, “...the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
In our area this time of year, starting at the beginning of November, it’s dusk around 4 pm and we’re in total darkness by 5:30. The older I get the more keenly aware I’ve become of the impact that has on my biorhythms, my mental state, and even my spirit. Darkness has a way of making me want to hide, to return to the solitude of my room and the comfort of my bed, to crawl back under the covers, and go to sleep!
But then the day after Thanksgiving all of our Christmas lights go up inside and out. And the light changes everything! There’s something altogether magical and beautiful and other-worldly about it that stirs up delight and wonder and hope. It makes us want to pause and linger; it invites us to bundle up on even the coldest night and take a family walk in the dark around the neighborhood, just to enjoy looking at the lights on display all around.
For us these lights breaking through the darkness are a visual, tangible reminder of the most beautiful love Story ever told---the Story of our Creator God who first spoke and said, "Let there be light," and there was light; the Story of our Father God who made us in His image, and so loved His children that He sent His Son to rescue them. It reminds us of the Baby at the center of that story--Jesus the "Light of the World"---whose birth fulfilled all the prophecies had foretold and brought everlasting Hope.
And so during this season we slow way down.
It's not that we don't have things to do--it's that we choose to let go of what's less important and create margin in our days for what's most important.
We make room to dwell and wonder.
We cultivate traditions and rituals that help us remember and not forget the extravagant love of our Creator God who sent His Son into the world to be the “Light of the world” so that no one believing in Him would be in the dark hiding anymore.
We do this because it reminds us that the Sovereign God who miraculously brought about the virgin Birth is still Sovereign; He’s still writing His story and working through ordinary people in seemingly ordinary places to do extraordinary things.
Even though, perhaps now more than ever, this world seems covered with darkness and sorrow and pain, we still have this Hope in Christ: that He’s sending forth streams into the desert, creating beauty from ashes, making all things new; and that one day He will wipe away all the tears from all the faces (Isaiah 25:8).
And so we sprinkle our home with the magic of Christmas lights and greenery and snowy winter scenes. We enjoy savoring extra-long tea times and reading special books aloud, putting together our traditional Christmas puzzles, baking special treats, and crafting sweet little gifts for family and friends.
The aim is to practice the rhythm of hope in the waiting; to encourage, bless, and be present with one another not just on Christmas Day itself but also in every day leading up to it. After all, isn't so much of the joy of a special event in the everyday anticipation of it?!
If you too are looking for practical ways to slow down and savor this Advent season with your family, I'd love to share a few of our longtime favorite resources with you. What follows are a handful of ideas for Advent books, music, and family activities.
Family Read-Alouds for Advent
- Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp –this book has been the “spine” of our Advent readings for the past 6 years. It’s the telling of the story of Jesus’ family tree (the “Jesse tree”) and with a Scripture and devotion for every day of December, it’s a read-aloud way to countdown the days to Christmas. Every morning we read the selection for that day, then hang the matching ornament on our Jesse tree (we have a small Christmas tree designated for this purpose in our dining room).
- One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham
- The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung
Personal Advent Readings
These are ones I've read and enjoyed on my own at some point during the month of December in the past several years. This year I'll encourage my 14-yr old daughter to pick from this list as well. While I don't get to read on repeat all of them every year, Piper's book is one that I do make it a point to reread annually.
- Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper
- Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller
- Saving Christmas by Mike Minter
- Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado
- Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson –the true tall tale of the coming of Christ put to music; it’s like a modern, folksong version of Handel’s Messiah. Our family tradition of listening to this dates back to before Danny and I were even married, when we saw it as college students in concert for the first time in 2002 at a local coffee shop in Fairfax, VA. We’ve made it a point to go to a concert or listen to the album (multiple times throughout the season) ever since.
- Handel’s Messiah – for those more inclined to the classics ;-) Even if it’s not typically your taste, I encourage you that even if you listen to no other part of it, make at least these three part of your listening repertoire this season: "Comfort Ye," “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” and of course the “Hallelujah” chorus.
Favorite Family Advent Activities
- Making beeswax candles - Literally make and share the gift of light! ;-). See DIY tutorial in this post.
- Making and decorating Christmas cookies –This is a yummy grain-free option; or if you're just looking for a good gluten-free alternative, try this one. (Note: this latter recipe is a little more conventional and calls for white sugar and confectioners' sugar, ingredients we usually avoid! If you'd like avoid them as well, you can swap out the white sugar with coconut sugar. You can also make your own "confectioners' sugar" by grinding your coconut sugar with a little arrowroot starch.)
- Taking a family walk around the neighborhood to look at the lights (once it’s dark of course ;-) )
- Attending a performance of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God (or live-streaming the performance, which is what we'll do this year because of COVID restrictions) - If this interests you, you can view details and buy tickets for the livestream here.
- Making simple, meaningful gifts for teachers and friends--in addition to candles we also enjoy making:
I hope this sparks some ideas and inspiration for you and that you and your family enjoy a blessed Advent season!
What special Advent traditions does your family enjoy?