Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent for Little Ones

The season of Advent is upon us. Advent means coming or arrival. This is the season that we as Christians prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in His first Advent, and anticipate with great expectancy the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent.

For the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Season of Advent has been a time of fasting and penitence for sins similar to the Season of Lent. However, a different emphasis for the season of Advent has gradually unfolded in much of the rest of the church. That emphasis has been more focused on a time of joy and happiness as we await the coming of the King.

The beginning of Advent is a time for the hanging of the green: evergreen wreaths, boughs, or trees that help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus the Christ. The Advent wreath is a circular evergreen wreath with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. The wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story. The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son.

The first candle is traditionally the candle of Expectation or Hope. The remaining three candles of Advent are: Love, Joy, Peace. The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve or Day.

This is just some of the information I've come across recently, via books and the Internet. Growing up in the church, I remember our church lighting and displaying an Advent wreath during the Christmas holidays. I even remember one year, my family got to light one of the candles and read the scripture for that Advent Sunday. But, it wasn't until last year that the season of Advent started to take on meaning in my personal life.

As I read through different blogs this time last year, I was touched by some of the ways different families were celebrating and trying to keep Christ as the center of their Christmas holidays. I came across several people who were using an Advent wreath at home at meal time, with scripture readings preceding the lighting of the candles, each Sunday. I also read how some families were using an Advent calendar with their children to count down the days to Christmas. I also have a wonderful friend who bakes a cake and celebrates Jesus' birthday each year with her children.

I decided I needed to start seriously thinking about how I was going to celebrate with my children each year. What are the family traditions that I'm going to hand down to my little ones?

Well, this year I started by decorating our home the first Sunday of Advent. We cleaned up our living room, rearranged the furniture, and brought up the Christmas tree. As soon as we plugged in the lights, our children were all oooos and ahhhhs. We hung our stockings and set out the nativity. I've been pointing out each of the characters, and telling them about how Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus' birthday.

I also hung up an old calendar from my days as a pre-school teacher. We're using numbered stars to count down the days on our calendar til Jesus' birthday. Both of my children are fascinated with stars, especially Trey. I also wanted to use stars to help me talk to the children each day about the star of Bethlehem, and how the shepherds and wise men followed the star to find Jesus, when he was born. So, we are following the stars to Jesus' birthday as well. My lovies are still very young, so I wanted to keep the calendar as simple as possible.

We are singing carols, and reading about the Christmas story as we light the candles on our little Advent wreath. They can already sing parts of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and a couple of other songs, as well. I know many people may think they are too young to understand all of this, and that is true in some respect. But, if they take away just a small piece of the real reason we celebrate Christmas, I'll be happy.

In fact, Trey said his first un-prompted prayer tonight. He said, "Thank you Jesus for mommy and daddy, for our home and food, for our movies and food, in Jesus holy name -Amen." How precious! I couldn't help but tear up as I listened to him talk to Jesus. I thought my heart was going to melt into a big ole puddle on the floor.

God is soo good, people. God is so good. I will have to share some more later. For now, I'm off to peek in on them, as they sleep. Hugh and I do this every night. They look like angels sleeping. Sweet dreams and blessings to all.

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