When the sun comes up through the tall branches of the pine trees, Sunday awakens at my house. It is the first Sunday, the first day, of Advent. As a child, Advent meant nothing more to me than opening a little flap on a cardboard box that was filled with a plastic tray of little square chocolates. The dates were not entirely all that accurate either; no matter what we started on December 1st, with the culminating piece that was opened on Christmas Eve showing off a plump and cheerful picture of Santa.
I have passed this tradition on to my children, with my sister always being determined to deliver the calendars to her nieces on nephews each year, faithfully by December first. But even if she is a little late, they don’t mind as they can double up on the chocolates to “catch up.”
This was the extent of my understanding of Advent for many years. I remember a Sunday School teacher spending time on it, explaining the wreath and the candles and what each week signified, but unfortunately I was not paying as much attention back then or recognized the significance. It felt like something more traditional churches would do, as if it was only for someone who was perhaps Catholic or Methodist.
I read it about in people’s blogs years later, and saw ideas on Pinterest and people discussing the celebration. Still, I could not understand this idea of Advent; why were people waiting for Jesus’ birth when He had already come?
When I began to read more about it, to search for the meaning behind it and the purpose, I was surprised to find there really was a meaning to it, a purpose beyond plastic trays of chocolates or lighting candles. I saw that it was for everyone, not just the churches that were rooted in deep traditions already.
The more I saw the structure to it, the symbolism of it, the tradition of it, the more I began to think that this was something I wanted to teach to my children. I wanted them to see beyond the glittery decor and the presents and Santa, beyond the artificial magic we produce with stories of elves and wishes and Christmas miracles. I had told them the true meaning of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus and the angels singing and the shepherds and kings that came to visit that Babe in the manger, and they had nodded their little heads with eagerness, all the while eyeing the presents under the tree.
Last year we began to really participate in Advent, to learn of the prophecies of Jesus, of the many names by which He is called- Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and many others. We read in Isaiah of His coming, of God’s meticulous plan beginning in Genesis leading to the moment of Christ’s birth. As we read those passages, we were right there with those people, waiting for the Savior.
This year we have an actual book to help guide us, with traditional songs, activities, and the lighting of the Advent candles. Tonight we will join those who still seek Him, who have waited on Him for His birth in the Scriptures and those who now wait on His second glorious coming. We make the journey in our hearts, hearing the prophecy and seeing God’s plan in action. For four weeks we will study and grow and pray and wait. And the point at the end, at least for me, is to know how much like the innkeepers will I be? Will I have prepared Him room in my heart this season, or will I choke Him out of the meaning of the holiday we celebrate that is all about Him? Will the artificial magic reign supreme, or will I bow to His holiness and in the quiet recesses of my heart- and in my kids’ and husband’s hearts- surrender our love and life to Him?
My prayer this Advent, as we wait and hope, is for the children to understand the significance of Jesus’ birth, of the climactic scene of God coming down to Earth, equally man and equally God, borne a babe like us but dying and resurrecting as a Savior. Some traditions will not die- like the chocolate calendars- but I want my children to see beyond that, to see Him in it all, as we wait. And for them to revel in knowing that our waiting is only for celebration, as He has already come, but that others had to wait, not knowing when He would arrive, clinging to the promises of prophets of old. Our Savior has come; now we prepare our hearts once more to receive the miracle of Christmas.