5 Ideas to Celebrate Advent

"How do you celebrate Christmas?" This question is thrown at me quite a bit. Sometimes it comes from another parent in our church looking for a way to escape the ubiquitous commercialism and underwhelming cultural mythology around the so-called "winter holidays." Other times, I get it from an outraged fellow parent, totally baffled that my kids don't get all that excited about santa, cookies, or red-nosed reindeer. Around the Mabry house, we've got a few traditions that we've cobbled together to try and make the Advent season joyfully centered on Jesus, and full of great memories together. Here are five of them that we love...

  1. The Advent Jesse Tree I must admit... I REALLY love this tradition. A few years back, my lovely wife got an old, dead tree branch. She stuck in a pot, held in place by gravel. In the process of creating this Tim Burton-inspired shrub, I thought she was nuts. But when I asked her what she was doing, she politely informed me that she was making a Jesse Tree—a tree upon which our family hangs one ornament for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. These ornaments go with different stories in the Scriptures that lead up the coming of Jesus. Each night of December, we read from a great devotional book for each story, and then one of our children hangs the ornament of the day. It requires a little bit of preparation, but it's a favorite in the Mabry home.
  2. Tell the Story of Santa Claus "Wait, aren't you a Pastor?" Yes I am, so let me explain. There are two mistakes that can be made regarding Santa Claus and the excessive cultural accouterments that go along with him. One is to freak out about them, call them all evil, and shun them. Best way to make your kids want santa and forget Jesus is to give the fat man the mystique of the forbidden. Calm down, he's not that big of a deal. The other mistake is just as bad, which is the wholesale embrace of Santa and his crew, to the neglect of Jesus. Nope, the answer is neither and better than both of these. Tell them the story of Santa as a story. And, tell them something about the real St. Nicholas. Then, when you've done that, tell them how glad you are the Christmas isn't about a man in the sky who judges me for all the naughty things I've done by withholding certain gifts, but a God who came from Heaven despite my evil to give me the greatest gift of all. Do that, and Jesus will just look a whole lot cooler than Santa.
  3. Happy Birthday Jesus! On Christmas Day, we make a sweet breakfast treat, like cinnamon roles, stick a candle in them and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. This is an easy way for our littlest ones to see that these gifts and this day aren't about us, but Jesus. Once we're done singing, we take a moment to pray and thank God for sending us the best gift—Jesus.
  4. Gift Giving On Christmas Day, we try to let our children enjoy giving the gifts. This one is subtle, but it's important. Instead of ripping into their gifts to hunt for their hoped-for-goodie, we take Christmas morning slowly, allowing our kids to take from the pile of gifts, and give them to each other. Then, we open them one at a time, and celebrate with the person getting the gift. Why? Because God is a big giver, who gave us his biggest gift—Jesus. Jesus said it's better to give, then to get. If God delights to give us his Son Jesus, then we should delight to be good gift-givers too. Neither stingy nor materialistic, just good givers.
  5. Have Fun! Hey, God's is fun... really fun. He invented fun. Invent your own traditions with your family that make your heart delight in Jesus and in one another. Have fun with one another! Play games, enjoy the lights, sing some songs... these are all good things that, with good motives, can be great for you and yours.

So there you go. Now you know how we celebrate the Advent season. How do you?

Thoughts on Joy

Christmastime brings with it a ubiquity of gospel opportunity—that is, it is much cooler to explain the joyful news of Christmas at Christmastime... go figure. It's not every month that we in the west are afforded the cultural opportunity to be more outspoken about the good news of the Advent. So when this time of year comes around, I want to take full advantage of it! For our church, that means doing things like The Big Give. But for me personally, it must also mean reflecting on the reason that the joyful news is so, well, joyful.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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.


Potential Joy We all live in the state of potential joy in Jesus. That's great news—that anyone, at anytime, is a prime candidate for the joyous news of Jesus' coming for their rescue... even shepherds who occupied the bottom of the social ladder in a backwater, nowhere town. Of course, the irony of the Gospel is that it's precisely our lowliness which qualifies us. The more familiar we are with our own unworthiness, the nearer we find ourselves to the outbreak of gospel joy.

Realized Joy What's exciting about this passage, though, isn't just the potential for joy, but it's realization. Five minutes prior to the angels' arrival, none of them would've expected that they'd be running toward a tumbledown barn to view God's boy in utter and total joy and awe. But it happened anyway. That's good news, too—that at any moment, even one of mundane, job-oriented boredom, God can bust open a tear in Heaven and change everything by the proclamation of good news... of the gospel.

Shared Joy Immediately after this experience, these shepherds moved to the highest state of joy in Christ: shared joy. Lewis and Piper both like to tell us that joy isn't really, fully experienced until it's shared. If that's true, then these men experienced a very full joy. As they ran to see their hopes in the face of an infant, they not only experienced the gospel joy of Jesus himself, but of seeing that joy in one another. This is the taste of Heaven itself; the multifaceted, prismatic wonder of Jesus-fueled joy in the face of others. This motivates mission, this inspires passion, and this consummates gospel proclamation.

Speaking of gospel-fired joy, Jonathan Edwards said,

This light, and this only, will bring the soul to a saving close with Christ. It conforms the heart to the gospel, mortifies its enmity and opposition against the scheme of salvation therein revealed: it causes the heart to embrace the joyful tidings, and entirely to adhere to, and acquiesce in the revelation of Christ as our Savior.

So Lord, move me from potential joy in Jesus to a fuller place. For this joy is my goal and my hope.