“I love this season,” my 7-year-old sighed happily as she sipped her hot cocoa the other night. She grinned at me with a cocoa and marshmallow mustache and I grinned back feeling, oh so thrilled, that we had achieved one of those feel good, holiday moments. It had been a pretty fantastic day that started with a once-in-a-decade snowfall. Living in south Texas we see snow about every ten years, and that morning we awoke to a whole inch of powdery, crystallized magic. What a glorious day it had been!
It was short lived however. The snow had melted by noon, and it almost felt like a dream. Had snow really been here? I have pictures on my Instagram account that prove it was real, and of course Instagram pics always display reality (wink, wink).
As I find myself racing through this season of Advent, I am struggling as I always do with balancing the extra demands of the holidays and the desire to create meaningful moments for my family. In the past I have found myself leaning more on the side of saying no to all of the extras and hunkering down in front of the fire muttering "Humbug" under my breath. This year, I naively thought I would do it all. We have said yes to almost every party if there was space on the calendar for it, searched our community for extra holiday events, extra cooking, baking, gingerbread house making. I wanted to do it all. Turns out…
We can’t do it all.
So here I sit, halfway through Advent, wondering if there is still time to recalibrate this machine and head in a different direction. As my husband walked out of the door for work this morning, he said there was probably no use in trying to get an Advent counter-downer thingy up since it is already the 11th of December (yes, “Advent counter-downer thingy” is my own official term because I don’t know the actual official term-hopefully you get what I’m talking about). Last year we had an Advent tree with little flags that we pulled off each night and lit candles and read another section of Luke 2. We knocked it out of the park last year. Not so much this year.
A bit of guilt is twinging in my gut at our lack of organized Adventing. We have had time to read together in front of the fire before bed a few nights. I wish it were more, but it is what it is. There has not been an Advent planner that we have followed, or the aforementioned nifty counter-downer thingy. And I wish I had planned better because those things can add an element of fun and guidance that are very helpful.
However, (I really am getting to a point with all of this meandering) all the things are not necessary. Time spent teaching our children about the life of Jesus does not have to have complicated elements. The scripture passage does not have to be lengthy. The conversation does not have to be deep and profound (thought it would be nice to have margin for those conversations). There is no need for a creative project to make the point. Simple can be very effective. I tell you this, because maybe, like me, you are feeling like you’ve somehow missed Advent because you don’t have the right stuff, the right book, the right props. As usual, we humans have taken a very simple and lovely story, and complicated it with stuff. The stuff is fun, no doubt I enjoy the extras. But they are not necessary. Sharing the gospel with our children is a very simple thing. Will I still try to get some sort of a homemade paper counter-downer thingy hung on the mantle before Advent ends? Sure…if I have the energy to make a special trip to the craft store for the materials. Or maybe I will just grab some paper out of the upstairs printer and call it done. But if it doesn’t happen, will I have missed my opportunity to teach my children about Advent? Not at all.
The idea that this is the only time of year we should give special attention to the gospel is a bit irksome. What we are doing in the coming weeks ought to simply be a continuation of what we moms and dads do all year long. We celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ everyday. The conversations we are having with our kids today are conversations we have been having all year, and have been doing so without the extra trappings.
There is a misunderstanding of the effect Jesus has had on the world. Many only take note of his coming into this world during December, giving a courteous nod in the direction of the nativity scene as they drive around to look at the lights. Many are more generous during the holidays, more apt to do good deeds, and that’s great. Then come January our focus as a society shifts to weight loss, debt reduction, and all the things we hope will make our lives better. Generosity is forgotten, good deeds left to someone else. We sometimes miss the point that Jesus came to give us the life we cannot have on our own, and we go on as before, unchanged by the message of the gospel.
Jesus didn’t just come to give us a holiday. He came to save our souls. To give us the gifts of a new nature and eternal life. This doesn’t just affect us for a season, it completely changes our entire life. This is what I want to teach my children this week. And every week all year long.
So what’s my point? I know, I’m scratching my head, too (although that may have something to do with the dry shampoo I've been using). Let me see if I can find a big red ribbon with which to tie all of this together.
It’s not too late to teach your children about the coming of Jesus. If you find that, like me, you have dropped the ball on getting all the things in place, don’t sweat it. Those things aren’t the point. Jesus is the one we are pointing to. We don’t have to have all the things in order to tell our children about what he has done for us. And we don’t have to wait until the next holiday to tell them again. We can tell them everyday with our words and the way we live our life. I like the way Milton Vincent says it in his Gospel Primer for Christians:
…I realize that the greatest gift I can give to my fellow-Christians is the gospel itself. Indeed, I love my fellow-Christians not simply because of the gospel, but I love them best when I am loving them with the gospel! And I do this not merely by speaking gospel words to them, but also by living before them and generously relating to them in a gospel manner.
I would add to the end of this “everyday”. The gift of the gospel is not something that we give to others just at Christmas, but everyday. The greatest gift we can give our children is the gospel itself in word and deed, everyday. All we really need is a Bible and a few moments together to unwrap the gift of the gospel for our children. It doesn't have to be fancy and color coordinated. It just has to have a place in the day to happen.
My prayer for you and me today, is that we would not be discouraged by our failure to engage in all of the holiday extras. I pray that we would not withhold the truth because it’s not yet neatly wrapped in pretty paper and a big bow. I pray that we would hold loosely the trappings of the season and cling tightly to the gospel that is the reason for our celebration. I pray that our joy would be complete, not because the decor is perfect, but because we who were lost, were sought after by the perfect One who made us, and carried us back to himself where we belong. What a glorious reason to rejoice!
And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees,
O hear the angels’ voices,
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born.
O night divine, O night,
O night divine.