By Sara Elsner
The last thing I want is to add one more thing to the Christmas-to-do lists of busy moms. So if you’re a mom like I once was - one that’s inclined to take good ideas and make them “must-do’s” that only add stress, then please stop reading this immediately. These ideas are intended to add life to you and your family - not take from it.
The Countdown to Christmas Presence
The second Sunday of Advent has already passed on the liturgical church calendar, meaning there are only two more Sundays before Christmas Day, with Christmas Eve being one of those Sundays. In our home we have celebrated these days with a semi-traditional Advent wreath holding four candles, one for each of the Sundays of Advent. The first candle is lit the fourth Sunday from Christmas, and each succeeding Sunday, the subsequent candle is lit, along with those lit previously. Each week a child is assigned to light each candle. We read a biblical passage of Jesus’ birth events or prophecy, sing a Christmas carol, and have a prayer time. We usually do this outside on our back porch under the stars, and the “wreath” is a hanging planter with live flowers and candles. Once Christmas is over, we have a living reminder of Christmas until the Texas summer heat burns off the pansies.
Disclaimer: Each year there will be at least one Advent Sunday devotional that will get preempted by another event, so we make it up later.
Another disclaimer: In doing our family Advent devotionals, there’s always at least one family member who doesn’t want to participate. AT LEAST one. But we do it anyway. And by the time we finish singing by outdoor candlelight, most everyone feels better, and we’re all glad we did it.
Counting Presents vs. Presence that Counts
Counting the Sundays before Christmas reminds me of counting the shopping days. For every family, gift-giving looks different, and it ought to be uniquely your own and not influenced by pressure from any outside sources. Although this sounds obvious, avoid comparison with other families. Avoid sharing too much information about your shopping exploits with other moms, unless it will help other families.
I have seen the most extreme gratitude being doused by texted gift reports of some of our kids’ friends before the end of Christmas Day. We all want to give our children good gifts, and even as mature adults we can start to question our ability to do so if we find ourselves, not to mention our kids, on the receiving ends of such messages. So we need to teach our own kids about graciousness, alongside gratefulness for their blessings, helping them decline invitations to comparison conversations.
Two biblical themes have been helpful to us in the process of endeavoring to give our kids valuable and meaningful Christmas gifts. The first is how God gives His own children gifts. The second theme relates to the wisemen’s gifts to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 12:7 prefaces the list of spiritual gifts that the Spirit gives to us:“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT)
The spiritual gifts list is concluded with verse 11:“It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” (1 Corinthians 12:11 NLT)
A tangible picture of this unique distribution of gifts is seen in C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which can be viewed as an allegorical parallel to the Gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven advancing against evil. In the scene where the land of Narnia begins to thaw from the curse of being “always winter and never Christmas”, the character Father Christmas appears as evidence of the curse’s reverse. He also distributes gifts to Narnia’s kingdom warriors that will benefit their roles and callings in the battle for kingdom restoration. The gifts are as diverse as sewing machines, swords, bows and arrows, daggers, horns, and tiny bottles of healing cordial. Instructions for each gift’s use and purpose are also given, and the recipients see that the ultimate Source behind Father Christmas is well acquainted with and guiding their own unique callings and destinies.
This segues into the second biblical theme:
“They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary,and they bowed down and worshiped him.Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11 NLT)
This model, as well as inspiration from an Advent devotional several years ago, has formed direction in presenting gifts to our kids. As we endeavor to nurture our kids’ hearts toward presents that are best for them, as well as communicate the Presence of the Christ of Christmas, each child gets three gift packages representing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even if you have already begun shopping for your children, it’s possible to establish this representation of His Presence with the presentation of the wrapping of their presents.
The package wrapped in gold, obviously representing the valued gold presented to King Jesus, contains the main item on their wishlist.
The gift representing frankincense, the gift given for worship of Jesus’ deity, would be something that will promote their relationship with God, and it is wrapped in silver or white. This may be something like a prayer journal, a new Bible, an inspirational book, worship music or framed scripture.
The third package is wrapped in red to represent the myrrh, given to Immanuel - “God with us”, who also became human like us, and needed care for his human body that would one day be sacrificed for us. In past years, gifts like clothing, shoes, fitness items, perfumes, bath, haircare, makeup, and manicure items have been wrapped in red.
Over the years our kids have begun to make requests in the directions of these gift themes, and it blesses me to see they have caught the “presence” within their presents!
These are two ideas to keep the Presence of Christ in Christmas. The above mentioned devotional, in addition to the following resources, have also been helpful:
- Preparing My Heart for Advent: A Spiritual Pilgrimage for the Christmas Season by Ann Marie Stewart (This devotional begins on November 1)
- Redeeming the Season by Kim Wier and Pam McCune
- 101 Ways to have a Christian Christmas by Brenda Verner
- A Simple Christmas: A Faith-Filled Guide to a Meaningful and Stress-Free Christmas by Sharon Hanby-Robie
Family reading for Advent, in addition to the Bible, includes the following intertwining historical fictions involving child characters whose adventures encounter historical figures in the biblical Christmas story. Our family has alternately read one of the following together aloud each Christmas Advent season. (We have skipped it so far this year, and our 17-year-old son expressed missing these stories just last night - I think that’s an endorsement!)
Storybooks for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide:
A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates.