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Long after they are grown, what memories of their childhood will your children cherish most of all? Will it be special birthday traditions? Family vacations? Turkey and stuffing at Grandma's house? All of those things are wonderful and I hope my children will remember all of those and many more with fondness.
But there is one family tradition we have that I hope will stand out in their minds over all the rest:
The celebration of Advent
You see, some years ago I reached a place where I was struggling with spiritual depression at the holidays. I hated the feeling of emptiness that would come over me each year after the holiday dust had settled and the Christmas season was winding down.
Can any of you mamas relate?
I have always been a huge fan of Christmas. I take immense pleasure in shopping for just the right gift for each person on my list and I lie awake on Christmas Eve like a little child, unable to sleep just thinking of my children's reactions when they open their presents and see the bulging stockings.
I couldn't understand how something that had always given me such pleasure could now leave me feeling so empty. Of course, I now know that it was the Holy Spirit, gently nudging me to stop pondering the vain and meaningless things of Christmas and instead, to ponder the One who made Christmas possible.
That's when I discovered Advent
What is Advent?
Advent is the season of the year leading up to Christmas. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, Advent has been observed in various ways by Catholics and other liturgical christian denominations, but recently it has been gaining popularity among evangelical churches.
(Hopefully after this post you'll understand why!)
The word advent literally means "arrival or coming". As christians we eagerly anticipate God himself being with us-first as a newborn babe, then again as a triumphant King.
Think Advent sounds stuffy and boring? Think again.
Advent is the perfect opportunity for teaching our children about God's redemptive plan in a multi-sensory way. Our children may hear the "Christmas Story" in Sunday School or in a cute bible story book, but by celebrating Advent in our homes year after year, they will be able to grasp the deep theological truths and continuity of the whole of the gospel. Mamas, ask yourself: Do my children truly understand the celebration of Christmas ? If you are unsure, here are a few questions you can ask your children:
Why do we celebrate Christmas? (If your child gives you a cute, pat answer such as, "Because it's Jesus birthday!", ask them what that means.)
Why did Jesus come to earth as a baby? (Most Christian children will answer this by saying "to save us from our sins". This is technically the right answer, but we want to dig a little deeper, so try responding with "Yes, but why did Jesus have to save us from our sins?"
Why is the virgin birth so important?
What do Adam, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph have to do with the Christmas story?
If your child struggles to understand how the birth of Christ relates to the Bible as a whole, then may I suggest that you begin using Advent as a fun and delightful way to foster fellowship in your family and draw them deeper into a relationship with Christ?
There are 3 ways that we accomplish this in our home. I am so excited to share them with you and I hope that you will be inspired to join us in creating special family memories that your children will remember for years to come!
Also, don't forget to subscribe to our blog at the end of this post to get your FREE Advent Planning Pages! (Current subscribers, contact us for a link to your free download!)
Today we will begin with the most important aspect of celebrating Advent-reading and studying God's word. Here are several devotion resources that we have used and that I highly recommend. Don't miss the second part of this post series where we'll share a ton of ideas for incorporating fellowship and ministry into your Advent celebration!
The Jesse Tree
The basic idea behind the Jesse Tree is taken from Isaiah 11:1 "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Jesse is the father of David and Jesus was a direct descendant from the line of King David, so the "shoot" that is to come out of the stump of Jesse is Jesus, the promised Messiah! It is a very simple and multi-sensory approach to teaching our children the plan of redemption from Adam to Jesus. There are many different kinds of trees and ornaments you can use.
I purchased this little pre-lit tree from a thrift store years ago for around $8. It has worked marvelously! Several years ago, a friend of mine organized a "Jesse Tree ornament exchange". It was a fun and easy way to collect all the ornaments needed for our tree. Over the years we have replaced broken ones until we have quite a hodge podge of ornaments representing a different Bible story.
Here are a few of our favorites:
This ornament represents the tablet Zechariah wrote on to announce John the Baptist's name.
Speaking of John the Baptist-here he is! I love this ornament.
This is one of our oldest Jesse Tree ornaments and one of my favorites. It represents the snake in the Garden of Eden.
I set up the Jesse Tree the day that Advent season begins with the basket of ornaments underneath. (I also have a basket with numbered "gifts" and surprises that correlate with each day of our Jesse Tree devotion.....but you'll have to wait until part 2 for that!) Each night we read a devotion and then the kids take turns hanging on the corresponding ornament. Add in some discussion and prayer and that's it. Pretty simple and easy, but you will be exceedingly blessed by the return on your investment!
Below is a list of resources and inspiration for the Jesse Tree (including printable ornaments and devotions that correspond.)
The Jesse Tree Reformed Church in America has a fantastic supply of Jesse Tree resources including how to make a Jesse Tree, Advent devotionals and Jesse Tree devotionals for families.
Life Your Way has free printable Jesse Tree ornaments that your kids can color.
The design and craft blog Papemelroti has free printable ornaments.
How fun is this? The Proverbial Homemaker has a Jesse Tree Lego Brick Challenge!
Confessions of a Homeschooler has nice printable Jesse Tree ornaments in full color or black & white for your kids to color. She also has scripture readings to download.
The list of Jesse Tree resources online are infinite. My absolute favorite Jesse Tree devotion (and the one we have used for many years now) is Ann Voskamp's A Jesus Advent Celebration. This was a subscriber freebie many years ago when I printed it, but it looks like it is no longer available. (If someone knows where to find it, please let us know!) Instead she now has 2 new Advent devotionals on the New York Times Best Seller list.
I love how she now has an adult devotion and a family devotion. This would be nice to switch over to once all of our children are older (or grown).
One that we have not personally used, but comes recommended is The Advent Jesse Tree.
The very first Advent devotional we ever used was the exciting Jotham's Journey series.
There are so many amazing resources for celebrating Advent with your family! I hope you are inspired to be intentional this holiday season in leading your children to a deeper understanding of the birth of Christ.
Next week will be a super fun post filled with a HUGE list of fellowship and ministry ideas to make your Advent celebration more meaningful and exciting. Watch your inbox. Your won't want to miss it!
To make planning your Advent celebration just a little easier, we have created printable Advent planning pages for you to use. They include printable "Advent Countdown" gift tags, Advent Calendar, Planning pages and a Christmas Countdown for your kiddos. You can choose from 2 beautiful designs! These pages are available now through the holiday season as a subscriber freebie. (Current subscribers, contact us for your free download link!)
Be sure to check out our latest homeschooling resources and curriculum!
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