In less than a week, Advent will begin. Pinterest boards and blogs overflow with beautiful, meaningful ways to celebrate Advent. Truthfully when I look at some plans that other parents can implement with their kids, I’m overwhelmed. Dinner at my house usually involves three little kids, lots of food on the floor, at least one cup spilled (most often onto someone else’s plate of food) and at least a few tears. Doing a full-fledged Jesse Tree or reading a book every night is outside my realm of possibility. If I tried, I would probably bring deformation to my family, rather than positive spiritual formation. Still I long to make meaningful traditions in my family that help us all draw nearer to God through the Christian calendar.
Prepare the Way of the Lord
Advent literally means “the coming.” This season is about preparation, not performance or perfection. We are preparing our hearts to welcome Christ in his coming–first through setting the ground to understand the story of the incarnation as he came to Bethlehem, then in grateful awareness of how he has come to us in our own salvation story, and in holy anticipation as we look to Christ’s second coming. As John the Baptist cried out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” in anticipation of Christ’s manifestation to the world, we can mark Advent in simple ways that remind us and others that we are preparing the way of the Lord. In Advent we prepare ourselves to meet Christ afresh as Savior and Lord.
So with three kids around the table, and two or three glasses of water knocked over and running off the edge of the table, and a baby hollering for more Cheerios, how can I walk through Advent, preparing the way of the Lord? Below are a few simple suggestions for living liturgically in real life.
Advent Candles & Wreath
Create space for a simple Advent wreath with candles this year. Each evening, or every Sunday, turn off all the lights nearby and light the correct number of candles for the week. This can be coupled with a simple prayer or a simple song. This is a very simple way to mark Advent that engages even the youngest child.
A Simple Prayer
Pray the collect for each week of Advent. You can repeat the prayer each night for the week, or pray it Sunday night at dinner. Maybe breakfast is the only time you are all together around the table–pray it then! Even before you start the car on the way to school, a deep breath and a prayer can be a tangible way to invite the Holy Spirit into your daily lives as a family.
A Simple Song
My boys’ favorite way to celebrate Advent is by singing. We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” when we light our Advent candles each night. The first week of Advent, we sing one verse. The second week, we sing verses one and two. By the end of Advent last year, my boys both knew four verses by heart and loved this simple way to mark time until the birth of Christ.
Purple Paper Napkins
The liturgical color of Advent is purple, which signifies royalty (our King Jesus!) and penitence as we prepare our hearts for his coming. Buy purple paper napkins to use during Advent, or if you have one, use a purple tablecloth or runner.
Pray together as a family during Advent. Before Advent begins, gather 24 index cards and write the names of 24 people, countries, unreached people groups, loved ones, friends or family members you know are in need. Each day when you gather with your family, choose one card and pray for the person or need on the card. For some families, this rhythm of daily prayer might be overwhelming. Instead, choose four loved ones to pray for, one for each Sunday of Advent. Beginning to pray together as a family can yield beautiful growth for each person.
If you have a nativity set or creche, set it up in a common area. Set the Holy Family across the room. Each Sunday during Advent, or each time you remember, move the Holy Family closer to the manger as we travel closer to Jesus’ birth. Hide baby Jesus until Christmas Eve and have the kids find him.
Service in Your Home
One family I read about here has a stocking for Jesus. They also have a pile of paper strips nearby and when someone sees another family member serving or loving someone, they write it down and put it in the stocking. They save the stocking until next Advent and read all the strips of paper together before Advent begins. (I would spend time reading the strips during the Christmas season too!).
Service Outside Your Home
Find a way to serve together as a family. Delivering meals to those in need, collecting money for children who might not get any Christmas presents, making toiletry care packages for any homeless people you might see as you drive, visiting someone you know is lonely are just a few ideas.
Consider taking some time this Advent to create space for preparation, so that when Christmas arrives, you will be ready–not just for the presents and the tree, but for the Savior King, born in Bethlehem.
Elizabeth currently lives and loves in Kentucky, where her husband Joel recently graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary. She spent most of her adult life until 2011 living in 3 different countries in Muslim Africa. Living as a follower of Jesus among Muslims has radically shaped how she understands and writes about her faith and her life. She is the mother of three young children. She loves to paint, write, go to public libraries after living without them for far too long, engage with women from other places and other faiths and dream about what life after seminary might look like. She has a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Intercultural Studies and an undergrad degree in Bible and Biblical Languages.