While I was pregnant with our first son, I dreamed of my near Christmas due date. The fresh smell of a newborn combined with the hymns of the season to make the Christmas story real in a new way for me.
However, when it arrived, the joyful expectation I had anticipated was drowned out by the needs of a baby. Nighttime feedings, a tender body needing to heal, and learning what it meant to be a mother consumed my energies. Rather than the breathtaking euphoria I had anticipated, I was overwhelmed with panic in December when I realized that I was now responsible for the traditions and culture of the Christmas season.
Growing up, my parents tried to focus on “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” As a first-generation Christian, my mom wanted Christmas to be deeply meaningful. She or my dad would read us the Christmas story before we opened presents. We also had a HUGE cookie production. We would bake hundreds of cookies and take them with a gospel-centered Christmas card to all our neighbors. In church, I remember hearing rumblings of anger about how people in the culture would say, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and concern that people were “taking Christ out of Christmas.”
With our kids, I knew I wanted faith and Christmas to flow together more positively and naturally. But how?
The year after my first son was born, I discovered Advent. I had settled into my husband’s childhood church. It frustrated me because none of the songs they sang in early December were familiar. I wanted the achingly beautiful songs of Christmas, the ones I remembered from my childhood. This was also the year I joined the choir at our church. One day, the choir director explained to us why and how the hymns in Advent season were chosen each week.
The songs from the first Sunday in December until Christmas Eve were picked to reflect the building desire of the Israelites’ longing for a Messiah. Then on Christmas Eve, the joyful songs of hope were sung one after another, in resolution to the pain and longing!
Once I saw it, I could not look away. Every story of the Old Testament took on a new meaning. Familiar stories I had once brushed over now danced with shadows of the One who would come. Every Old Testament death brought the renewed revelation of the anguish of the curse. All the births held the hope of, “Is this the One who will come?”
My pain and dissatisfaction with the music in church during that season mirrored the longing of the Israelites and once I understood it, everything fell into place. In learning about Advent from my church, I found what I was looking for.
If you’re like I was six years ago, you might be sarcastically thinking, “Hurrah, for you. That’s all great, but how does this work practically?” You might wonder, “How do I celebrate Advent myself?”
Ideally, an Advent devotional should focus on the prophecies and shadows of Christ in the Old Testament.
I have used “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” by Nancy Guthrie for several years in a row and have loved it.
This year I purchased “Come, Let Us Adore Him” by Paul David Tripp, and will be using it with my husband. If you’re looking for community as you go through that book, come on over to my Instagram and we can chat about it.
Melissa Kruger has a new Christmas book called “The Weary World Rejoices.” It is really beautiful!
Advent Resources for Kids
Here are some of the best recommendations I’ve seen the last few years:
Holly Mackle has written a lovely children’s book for Advent called, “Little Hearts Prepare Him Room.” She also has ornament cards to accompany each day’s reading.
Jesse Tree Ornaments: These go from curse to glory and explain the holistic story of Christ’s perfect plan for redemption throughout Scripture. You can buy fancy ones already made or just print some out from Pinterest and color them each year as a family.
I also discovered these Advent blocks for children to teach your kids in a tactile way. There is one block for every day and helps keep Christ present each day leading up to Christmas.
The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan: If you don’t want to buy anything and already have a copy of this book, there are selected readings to use during the season of Advent. There are also coloring pages that go along with the stories.
The Finished Work, but Not Yet Kingdom
For many of us, 2020-2021 has been incredibly difficult. I would be remiss if I didn’t wrap up this package with the best and most beautiful part of Advent. The core of Advent is in longing anticipation of a Messiah, BUT HE HAS COME!
We are in the days of his finished work, but of the not yet kingdom. The earth still groans with expectation of his kingdom without sin. We weep over the loss of loved ones, of the sin in our churches, conflict in our families, and dark places of our hearts. We cry out because our hearts know that these things should NEVER be.
What we are experiencing here and what we have now isn’t the end of the story.
Advent reminds us that we have a faithful God who keeps his promises to his people. He sent us Immanuel, “God with us.” May this season draw us all closer to the One who came to make all things new.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Santelmann is the homeschooling mother of three small boys. She loves reading and always has a large stack of books by her bed. She enjoys seeking beauty by taking photographs. And she started combining her photos with writing on Instagram @sunshineinmynest. Her hope was to share what she is learning about gently nurturing, and guiding, our children toward the gospel with our lives and speech.
Before marriage she worked for 4 years in children’s ministry. She has attended Heritage Presbyterian Church with her husband the last 10 years. The past three years she has loved using what she learned about reformed theology, and children’s ministry to write Bible lessons for her church’s VBS. You can find her at sunshineinmynest.com.