Don't Let Advent Activities Steal Your Joy

Before we'd even finished eating our first round of Halloween candy, one of my sweet sister-in-laws asked, “What are you doing with your kids for Advent this year?”  
I’m thankful for her question and intentional spirit, and am encouraged by her desire to make Christmas a highlight of the year.  I too want to make much of Jesus during Advent, separating our traditions from the world and training our children to know the true reason for the season.  But part of me also cringed a little bit as I thought of the pressure to do one more thing.

My oldest child isn’t even four, and I already feel bad that I haven't done sugar cookie decorating, Jesse Trees, Christmas caroling and crafts.  Can I even admit that we probably won’t put up a grown-up sized Christmas tree?  With twin two–year-olds freely barreling through house,  I don't want to protect a traditional tree from falling over everyday.  Not to mention that with dozens of little boy shoes, mittens, toys and smashed crackers, lots of Christmas knick-knacks tend to make things look even more cluttered.  Last year we had a chain of paper, and each day we removed one, doing a small activity to get excited for the upcoming holiday.  It’s a start, but sometimes I wonder how I can have a house full of little children AND have Christmas spirit.  I wonder if I'm doing enough.

As I pondered the question about Advent, a few thoughts came to my mind about what I hope to do for my family this year.

Help them anticipate the coming of Jesus
Whether it’s through bible verses, special toys, treats or fun activities, I hope this can feel like an extra special season.  As December 25th draws near, I want their hearts to be growing in their excitement to celebrate.  I hope we set a tone of expectation, both to talk about the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago and as we look ahead to him coming again.  I’m not sure of the best strategy for our family, but I do want Advent to be set aside for merriment and cheer about our Savior!  Christmas Day can be the culmination of the hope we've been building throughout the month.

Teach them to look outside of themselves
As we talk about the fun toys and games they look forward to receiving under the Christmas tree, I hope we can also get excited about generosity.  I want them to see my husband and I modeling a spirit of joy that we have opportunity to bless others with gifts.  When they see me spending hours online and in stores, I hope I will smile and say, “This is such a fun chance to get a gift for so-and-so…it’s more blessed to give than to receive!”  Whether it is through Operation Christmas Child or in purchasing gifts for family, I want to make gift-giving a bigger deal than gift receiving.  Involving my children in the process of wrapping, choosing and thinking intentionally about others will translate into conversations about the ultimate gift God gave us in Christ.

Model a life of joy and love
What is the Christian witness if it comes without joy?  If I tell them all the right verses, go through all the perfect Advent activities and I have not love – what is the point?  My children don’t need a mom rolling out sugar cookie dough to the tune of, “You guys are getting in my way and ruining everything!  Stop poking each other – and no, you may not use extra sprinkles!!”  If achieving my perfect Advent plan is going to stress me out and steal my joy, it’s not worth it.  I can best communicate the power of Christ’s coming by living a changed life and walking in the spirit.

Be a life-giver
Mostly, I want to be an overflowing cup of gratitude for what Jesus has done for me this Advent season, giving grace and life to my family.  It's worth the time to get down at the level of little faces and use a gentle voice, to snuggle and read stories.  As I'm connected to the true vine, Jesus, I can bear fruit and help my family thrive.  Our Savior was the ultimate life-giver, and I can be a little model of that during Advent as I minister to others.

Advent activities can look a lot of different ways, and some families will do more than others.  Intentional training is important, but we need to remember people matter more than programs.  Our connections and relationships with our children are the channel through which our teaching flows.  If that is blocked with pressure and stress, very little else can get through.  So this year, before you resolve to do a specific Advent plan, resolve to have JOY.  To be filled up in your relationship with Jesus, depending on him in each situation.  Then your children can have memories of a mom who laughed, played and smiled during the Christmas season.  In your joy, that Advent teaching will be much more real and meaningful to the soft hearts of your children.

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