Growing up I didn’t know what Advent was. For whatever reason, I didn’t remember my church talking about it. Maybe they did and I just didn’t catch it. My first experience with the Advent wreath and candles was in college. I remember feeling like we were doing some super religious thing that wasn’t about Jesus. However, as I talked about that with friends and my parents, they explained that Advent was actually all about Jesus. After that year, I was more aware about the meaning of Advent; waiting in expectation for Jesus.
When Jon and I had our first child Evelyn, he and I started to observe Advent in our home. With a child now in the picture, Jon and I really wanted to make sure that JESUS was the reason we celebrated Christmas instead of Santa or presents or any other thing like that. In those early days, I think all we did was read the Christmas Story from Luke during the week of Christmas. Evelyn was so tiny and truly unaware of what we were doing, but we knew we wanted to set a tradition of being focused on Jesus. Traditions only become traditions if you START something. We knew we just needed to START and as we floundered around like a fish out of water, we would figure it out along the way.
HOW WE HAVE CELEBRATED ADVENT OVER THE YEARS
As the years passed and more kids came along, Advent became so much more important to us, and it also became so much more chaotic! As each new baby joined our family, we felt the weight of the world we lived in and the NEED to make sure we did our part in teaching our girls about Jesus and how HE is why we celebrate Christmas.
As we stumbled through the years to find what worked for our family we have tried many things. We have read the Christmas story from the Bible (Luke 1-2) in the early years. We also had a year where Evelyn was 5, Nyla was 2 and Sady was almost 1 where we didn’t even attempt an Advent for them because my mom brain was tired and exhausted, but Jon and I would read Timothy Keller’s “Hidden Christmas” together before the kids woke up each morning.
Most years I have had great expectations to do this beautiful Advent reading plan, and most years we have only gotten a couple days in and then the chaos of 4 little kids and being purely exhausted won over doing our Advent.
LEADING ADVENT WITH THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE ORNAMENTS
When we moved back to Omaha a few years ago, we discovered that our favorite bible storybook had the perfect number of readings for each day leading up to Christmas. The Jesus Storybook Bible (JSB) is a book that I have loved to read to my girls throughout the year, so I was all for this plan at Christmas time. Two years ago a friend brought to my attention this free ornament printable that the publisher of the JSB had created to go along with the Bible readings for each day but then I quickly forgot about them.
This year I decided to print them out and laminate them and do SOMETHING with them. I decided to make them a flip tree on the wall over hanging them on our tree and it has been a lot of fun to see the tree grow from white to super colorful.
What God has shown me this year through incorporating the ornaments along with our readings is that keeping it simple and about Jesus is all that matters. The ornaments are an easy way to keep the kids engaged. We take turns in our house with who gets to flip the ornament to reveal the picture. Then we go read the story in the JSB. This year we have two bibles, one for the reader and one for the people who are a little further away from the reader to follow along in. What I love about that is it started with my four year old. She wanted to see the pictures so she grabbed her bible and it has stuck. It wasn’t anything I had them do.
WHAT GOD HAS REVEALED TO ME PERSONALLY
I have learned the most over the years of attempting different Advent devotionals during the Christmas season is that I need to lay aside my expectations of what I hope the time will look like and instead be thankful to have the opportunity to teach my kids even the tiniest bit about Jesus and why we actually celebrate Christmas. Jon put it so well. He said, “It’s like when you feed your kid dinner. Some days they will eat everything on their plate and it’s amazing! Other days they will take a bite and refuse to eat anything else. The win is that they got food in their body, even if it was just a bite.” It’s the same with devotions and Advent readings, especially when you have young kids. There are going to be times where by some miracle it is the most beautiful, magical, perfect night because everyone sat still and they were quiet. More frequently it will be a miracle to just finish the story after you have yelled at a kid to stop hitting their sister or to get the baby out of the bathroom and to stop kicking the couch and stop talking because we are reading the Bible! Most of the time when we finish our devotions I feel like I just got done wrestling wild cats and I’m surprised I’m still alive, but what keeps me coming back each night is knowing that I am planting seeds of truth in my children. They are getting that one bite and that one bite makes all the difference.
I want to encourage other parents to not let the chaos that comes with littles keep you from giving your kids that one bite of Jesus. Embrace the chaos. Take a deep breath. If the moment is feeling like too much, then shorten it. Take a moment to pray. Our kids need to see that time with Jesus isn’t always glamorous. They need to see that we don’t have to be perfect and have it all together in order to come to Jesus. They need to see us come to Jesus when everything is messy; that we don’t only go to Jesus when life is all pretty and put together, but at any time. What better time to teach this than when they are little and pretty much messy most times. So much more than we realize sticks with them.
I want my kids to look back at these times and remember that even how messy and chaotic it seemed, we still made Jesus priority. We didn’t wait till everyone was calm and sitting still. We pushed through. Because in reality, isn’t that how most of our quiet times with Jesus are? Yet it is those times that I look back at and see how my faithfulness to be near to Jesus, even when my brain was thinking of a million other things or the kids woke up early and kept interrupting my bible time, when Jesus met me most. He filled my cup when I couldn’t even think clearly and that is what I want for my kids as well.
Advent teaches us and reminds us that we are still waiting. Our hope isn’t in a holiday; it’s in a person. Advent reminds us that waiting isn’t limited to one day on the calendar, that is here today and gone tomorrow, but that we are still waiting for the Messiah to come again. If teaching your kids about Advent feels like too much in this season, then teach yourself about Advent. By seeing that Jesus is real to you and you making it a priority in your own life will speak volumes to your kids. Take this year to focus your own heart on Jesus and then try again the next year with your kids. It has taken me 9 years to finally have an Advent happen with my kids, but I haven’t let the failed attempts each year keep me from trying again the following year. With every small bite, they still get our big Jesus.