The Gift of New Beginnings at Advent

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I entered into the Season of Advent, not knowing what the Lord had in store for me.  I knew that we would be deliberately seeking Him in our home (through His Word) in new ways.  Our family is trying to develop lovely traditions, ones that we will hang on to and continue.  The four of us lived for so long in survival mode, and had many difficult holidays, the thought of which now can nearly undo me.  We have been pretty thin on traditions, since it is hard to stop and smell any roses when you are treading water.

And this has really grieved me…the sense of loss.  The making of memories missed, time gone.  And time has just flown, before long the kids will be grown…how did that happen?  SHE is almost as tall as ME, as we sing loudly together in church, blowing out the Klause family in front of us (they are just so, so dear).  And HE is getting so big, sometimes he forgets to hug me—and this kid, he’s a hugger—but he’s pretty busy these days.  Life is always moving forward.  Change is relentless in its arrival.

But change is what Advent is all about: change coming to overturn the world order, to unseat the Curse.  Those who met and loved Jesus had to change their expectations because He brought change in a way they could not imagine…by His humility, by His sacrifice, by His love.  And this is the change He calls us to, in our hearts: humility, sacrifice, and love.  And these are the gifts I hope we can unwrap in our family throughout the coming year.

The Lord has already brought the miracle of change into our family, because all those painful years have been matured us all, even the parents.  Growth, though painful, is change.  And growth is progress.  And I can see now that God’s plan was at work all along in the difficulties, in the grief, in the loss…He was making us new!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away;
behold, the new has come
(2 Corinthians 5:17).

If you are struggling this year, or if every holiday season is a struggle, don’t lose hope!  The Lord is always at work in your mess, always.

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Walking Through Advent: Week Three

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An Advent Family Devotional 
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Advent, the Coming of Christ

Luke 10-42 brittalafontI have had such high hopes for Advent.  I wanted to immerse myself in scripture and tradition and family experiences. All I can say today is, “Are we already almost half way through it?”

There is so much that is good to do, at this time.  There are great ways to celebrate Christ, special foods to make, fellowship to be had.  And God is using wonderful writers and ministries who provide tremendous opportunities for us to engage with Him, to meet Him in the Coming (Advent) of Christmas, to Keep Christ in Christmas.  I am thankful to see so many bloggers and other online ministries shining His Light during this time!

Yes, there is so much good.  We are enjoying our Advent wreath, our Jesse Tree (thank you Cati!), our Christmas tree, and the other decorations that say Christmas is just around the corner.  But sometimes in the midst of all this good, like Mary’s sister Martha, we can lose the better part.

…Few things are needed
—or indeed only one.
Mary has chosen what is better,
and it will not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:42

In past years, I have missed the Coming of our Lord, because of Christmas.
I have missed the forest, for the trees.

This year, the Lord has given me a new Grace.  He has made me keenly aware that all of my pursuits should reflect my pursuit of Him.  So I am not stressing that we are behind on the Jesse Tree today because of an orthodontist appointment.  Or that we didn’t light the Advent wreath on the Second Sunday of Advent, because we weren’t home.  That night there was no Sunday dinner with the family.  There was frozen yogurt on the way to see a few friends performing beautiful ballet pieces from The Nutcracker.

I am so thankful for these gifts, today, in this—the Second Week of Advent:

  1. A kind orthodontist
  2. God’s Provision for our children to have braces
  3. Friends (that we can watch dance beautifully in performances)
  4. Eyes to see performances
  5. Frozen Yogurt
  6. Eyes that see Blessings

I am learning that we should see Emmanuel, God With Us, where He is—in our everyday lives.  When we meet Him there, it is the better part.

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Walking Through Advent: Week Two

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Walking Through the Christian Year Newsletter,
please do so now to receive exclusive content
including my FREE gift for you:
An Advent Family Devotional 
Each week you will receive a printable of the week’s scriptures
and a prayer for the lighting of the Advent wreath.

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The Tradition of the Christmas Tree

city on a hill treeWhen you start reading about the history of the Christmas Tree, you might begin to feel a bit uncomfortable about the pagan beginnings of gathering around a tree for worship.  Before Christianity became the dominant religion of Europe, pagans also celebrated the winter solstice by bringing evergreen boughs into the home.  If you get caught up in the earliest origins of Christmas trees, it can make you feel like the best place for a tree is in the yard!

Instead, I love that God’s people have embraced the redeemed and repurposed evergreen trees.  Christmas trees—whose leaves do not die annually—have come to represent the eternal life we have in Christ. Christians have celebrated Christmas by decorating the trees and bringing them indoors for centuries.  This custom originated in Germany; it became popular in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, when her German husband Prince Albert brought the tradition to Windsor castle.  Tradition maintains that Hessian soldiers (from Germany) brought the practice to the United States during the American Revolutionary War.  Years later, decorating a Christmas tree is one of the most popular, enduring traditions of Christmas. You can read more about it here:

Some say that the first person to bring a decorated tree into the house was Martin Luther, who was captivated by the beauty of a fir tree he had seen while walking through the forest at night.  Here is my favorite Christmas traditions website: WhyChristmas.com.

From Medieval times, people have combined the retelling of the story of Jesus coming to Earth with the decorating of the Christmas Tree.  Yes, the Jesse Tree tradition is an old one.   My friend Cati hosts a Jesse Tree Ornament exchange each year.  Friends hand-make 24 sets of the same ornament; then they exchange theirs with others, so they come home with a set of 24 different ornaments, all reflecting the story of Christ.    An ornament is put on the tree each night of the month of December and the origin of the symbol of Christmas is discussed. Cati’s group uses the book by Dean Lambert Smith, called The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.

If you want to start this activity within your family, or host a gathering, Jackie Ruksdashel has put it all together for you. Just click the image below, you can purchase wooden Jesse Tree ornament sets, along with the devotional booklet of all the readings:

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A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD–and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
(Isaiah 11:1-4, NIV).

New out this year, Ann VosKamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas is an exploration of the meaning behind the symbols used in the Jesse Tree.

Truth in the Tinsel   Similar to The Jesse Tree, as a story-telling & ornament related activity, but this goes a step further toward experiential learning for young kids.  The story is told as the ornament as the family makes each ornament together. “This ebook will lead you and your children on your own experience through the Christmas Story. You’ll take a few minutes each day in reading the Christmas Story directly from the Bible, making a fun ornament craft and talking about it together” (from the website).

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My friend Eryn wrote this great post about combining Truth in the Tinsel with what they call, “the Advent Angel” (a very sweet alternative to Elf on the Shelf).  This is a great example of how families can create their own traditions for Advent and other milestones throughout the Christian Year!

mamahall.com advent angel

Decorating the tree is one of the highlights of my Christmas season.  We have all sorts of ornaments that remind of family and friends.  Many remind us that Christ is “the reason for the season.”  We are like so many people whose Christmas tree is a sentimental part of the season.  I love the many ways to combine the observance of Advent with the tradition of the Christmas tree.  As our enjoyment of family and remembrance of the birth of Jesus lights our eyes and warms our hearts, we are able to share this light and warmth with others!

How about you?  Do you do the Jesse Tree or some variation on it? If yes, how long have you done this?  If no, does it look like something your family would enjoy?

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