Advent Ideas for Families

child lighting advent wreathLast year was the first time that I had ever celebrated Advent at a church, and I loved it.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming helped me keep Christ central to Christmas.  This will be the first year that my family is celebrating Advent at home as well.

As Christian parents, we all want to keep Christ at the center of our families’ Christmas celebrations both inside and outside of church.  Advent is one way to do that.  Maybe you have been wanting to start Family Devotions…what a wonderful way to get in the habit of regularly talking about God’s Word as a family!

Here are several ideas and free resources for you to use in your own families’ Advent celebration.  Joy to the world–and joy to your family this Christmas season!

  • There are Advent wreaths available at Christian book stores, but there are simple instructions and ideas at the beginning of the Focus on the Family booklet below.  Don’t let having or not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  While I anticipate it adding to the fact that this is a special season, you can still do Advent readings together without an Advent Wreath at home.
  • I encourage you to pick it right up again if you miss a night–or several nights because of the busy holiday season.  The general consistency of looking to Jesus in a special way together as Christmas approaches is what will impact your family!
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible is what we will use with our family this year.  As this blog points out, baby jesus…there are twenty-one stories it in from the Old Testament—each ending with a paragraph that ties in to the imminent birth of Jesus—and then three stories from the New Testament leading up to (and surrounding) the birth story of Jesus.”  Celebrating Advent at home will be as simple–and meaningful–as lighting the wreath, reading the story for that night, and one of us praying.  There is a free PDF from the same blog that lays the readings out from December 1st to Christmas Eve!  Our church will be using the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum for Children’s Church after Advent, so using it at home during Advent will be another way to further connect church and home.
  • Focus on the Family produced an excellent, free Advent booklet last year, “Knowing Him By Name,” that focuses on the names of Christ throughout the Bible.  It is written for school age children and parents to do together, with a short reading each day and an activity.
  • Nancy Guthrie has written an Advent devotional book, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” that is designed for the entire family–from school age children to teenagers to parents. [HT: Mike Pohlman]
  • If you have teenagers in your home–or would read an Advent devotional yourself, I encourage you to consider John Piper’s “Good News of Great Joy,” free from Desiring God.
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Thanksgiving In (Not in Spite of) Suffering

thanksgiving in sufferingAlthough there were many Thanksgiving feasts and observances throughout the United States for almost two and a half centuries before Lincoln, the nationally recognized holiday that we will soon celebrate was put into place in the middle of the Civil War.  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, while the war was raging and the country was truly divided.  While citizens were becoming widows and orphans daily, Secretary of State William Steward wrote:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Even in the midst of great pain and hardship, they were recognizing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  One of the ways that they gave thanks in all circumstances, even horrible ones such as civil war, was by looking to blessings that God had given:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…

They were looking for God’s good providence and for things to be thankful for, so that God would be praised no matter what, recognizing that He is the giver of all good things (James 1:17).   I recently taught a Bible study on Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”  The word “granted” is the same word used in Romans 8:32 about God graciously giving us all things:  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  We expect God to “graciously give” us blessings, but we often don’t understand how suffering could be a grace gift.

One answer is because God uses it all.  Nothing is wasted in God’s providence.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)  This is why the Apostle Paul could write, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” (Col. 1:24).  As our Senior Pastor preached on Colossians 1:24-29 recently, he asked, “Who talks like this?  Rejoicing in our sufferings?  Christians do!”

We can bubble over with genuine thanksgiving at any time if we look to the blessings God has given us, even if mixed with suffering.  Our God is both sovereign and good.  He is the God who promised Romans 8:28, a promise that rests on the bedrock of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Blessings.  Thanksgiving.  Hope.  Even in Civil War.