Advent Traditions Can Help Us Slow Down and Get Ready

Every year the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day seems to go very fast for me. I know the advice when life gets going too fast is to slow down and enjoy the moments. How can I slow down when there is so much that needs to get done?

A good way for me to slow down my life and home is to adopt or renew some traditions in my home for Advent and Christmas. Advent is a season filled with expectations and anticipations that focus on the longing for the arrival of Jesus Christ. We rejoice that Christ was born in Bethlehem. We also renew our longing for Christ in our personal lives. As I look to the past and present, I also look forward to Christ’s Second Coming. I trust that even in our present chaos there will be a time when the fullness of the kingdom of God will be revealed.

The traditions of Advent and Christmas prepare us to receive the gift of Jesus and also help us to look forward to His kingdom to come. As I think about adding traditions into my family, my goal is to help my life slow down. It feels counter-intuitive to slow down by becoming busier. So my goal is not simply to become busier. I want the pace of my home to slow down by centering our lives on what makes everything else important.

Here are a couple of Advent and Christmas traditions that may help you and your home refocus on the coming of Jesus Christ in your life and in the world.

Home Devotions

Daily devotions in the home are good because it is important that we keep our lives crafted by the Word of God. During Advent many good resources are published to encourage home devotions. So if you have not gotten in the pattern of home devotions, Advent is a well-resourced time to begin. The daily devotions published by Lutheran Indian Ministries can be found on the countertop in the narthex at St. Paul. This organization shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Native American people, encouraging them to proclaim Christ’s Kingdom to their own and to others. This devotion booklet is a great resource they provide for congregations. I think you will enjoy reading the devotion for each day. Besides picking up the devotion booklet in the narthex, you can go to lutheranindianministries.org/devotions#advent to download the entire 2016 Advent Devotions booklet. We have a few copies available  of an Advent daily devotion booklet called “Jesse Tree,” which matches the program we will be using for our Advent Midweek Vespers.

Advent Calendars

The Advent Calendar is a special calendar that is used to count down the days in anticipation of Christmas. Chocolates, legos, or toys can all be found behind the doors of an Advent Calendar. The calendar helps build expectation for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. In the past, our family has purchased our Advent calendars at Aldi. They are cheap and filled with chocolate, which is a great combination.

Advent Wreaths

The Advent wreath, like the calendar, helps build the expectation for Christmas to arrive. It is usually an evergreen wreath with four candles and a white candle in the center. Each week in Advent another candle is lit during the time of Bible reading and prayers. By the end of Advent all four candles are lit, and everyone is encouraged to see that the light of the world is arriving. The fifth candle, in the center, is lit with the arrival of Christmas. The Advent wreath works well alongside of home devotions to mark the passage of time towards Christmas.

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Midweek Simple Supper and Vespers

On Wednesday November 30, December 7, and December 14 St. Paul Lutheran Church will host a simple supper and vespers. The simple supper at 6pm is a potluck meal. The signup sheets to announce what you will bring hang on the clipboards in the fellowship hall. Even if you don’t bring something to eat, you can come and enjoy the food. There has always been enough food for everyone who comes. Vespers, a prayer service, will start at 7pm. The prayer service lasts about 45 minutes. This year our services will focus on the tradition of the Jesse Tree. The tradition is to highlight different people from the genealogy of Jesus. Each week we will look at four people and rejoice at how God was at work in their lives. During the meal there will be ornaments for each character which can be decorated.

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Carols

I love singing Christmas carols. I am so pleased that my wife will sit at our home piano and play Christmas carols. Fire up Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, or one of the other streaming services to listen to some Christian carols.

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Children’s Christmas Program

On December 18 at the 11am service we will enjoy a children’s Christmas program. The children and youth of our congregation will help us see the joy in the coming of Jesus. The preservice music for this service will be an offering of talents from our young musicians. Plan to arrive early and wonder at their gift in spreading the good news that Christ our savior is born in Bethlehem.

Christmas Decorating

The traditions of decorating the home and the church for Christmas are wonderful. I know some homes which are overtaken with Christmas decorations, and that you will be fortunate if you do not trip over one of many Christmas trees in the home. I love the excitement of refreshing our homes for the arrival of the greatest guest our world has ever received. Our church is decorated on November 29 at 9am. We are always looking for strong people to help us raise the tree. After the tree is up, we add the chrismons to the tree. Chrismon is a contraction of Christ and monograms because each symbol is representative of the name of Jesus. They remind us of how Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises. I think it is okay if your decorations are over the top. We are celebrating the event that all history hinges upon.

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Advent by Candlelight

On Monday, December 5 at 6pm the women in our congregation and community ages 13-113 will encourage one another to find strength and renewal in the gift of Jesus.

Special Worship Services

Your family will be blessed by participating in the worship opportunities at St. Paul Lutheran Church. On Christmas Eve there will be Lessons and Carols with Holy Communion at 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm. On Christmas Day we will gather to receive the promise that Jesus is born at 10am. Prepare to enter the New Year enriched by the Word of God on New Year’s Eve at 7pm and New Year’s Day at 10am.

Waiting as a witness

On Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran Church we will continue to see how we wait for Jesus. Last week we saw how John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness. This Sunday we will again look at how we wait through the example of John. This time we will see how John waits as a witness. A witness points people to the truth. John waited as a witness by pointing people to Jesus. Are you prepared to point people to Jesus?

grunewald1515A famous painting by Matthias Grunewald shows John the Baptist pointing to Jesus. John was dead by the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, but he is included in this painting to show that John pointed people to the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He has in one hand the scriptures and in the other hand a finger extended towards the crucified Jesus. We are to see that the promise of God long hoped for has been revealed in Jesus.

The prophetic work of John was to point people to Jesus so that their eyes would be opened to the promise of salvation. Jesus Christ is our savior. He is the lamb of God who takes away our sin. In our witness we point people to Jesus. If we want to point people to their salvation and we are not pointing people to Jesus then we are seriously doing something wrong.

If someone were to ask you why you go to church, I hope that your answer would include the joy you have in hearing that Jesus is your savior.

The King is Coming

Before and After

Recently a member of our congregation was sharing with me how she was having a difficult time getting property insurance for a piece of property because the insurance company considered the home vacant. A vacant home is more likely to be vandalized. This December at St. Paul we celebrate the coming of Christ to be our Savior. We are not an abandoned people, defined by neglect. God has not forgotten us in our corruption and sin. He has come in the flesh and dwelled among us.

God saw that death and division were gaining an ever-firmer grip on humanity. Without the intervention of God in our world, the human race was in the process of destruction. We had been created in the image of God. God made us, and we were to be the reflection of the Word of God into this world. The ability of us to reflect the image of God in this world was seriously tarnished by sin. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the work of God in this world was being undone. Our own reason or strength was not going to stop the unraveling of the work of God in this world. The marvel of God’s love is found in how He brings His Word into a world that is perishing.

Death is all around us, and it was for this purpose that the Word of God has come to work in the world. The Word of God entered our world because God saw that we could not advance ourselves towards life or strength. Jesus saw that the corruption of sin held us tight. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of our sin held us to death. The wonder of the heavenly Father’s creation was coming to nothing in death.

Our story, which was supposed to be the story of God’s love in the world, was corrupted by sin towards death. So the Word of God, moved by compassion for us, took on our flesh. The Word of God came into our corruption and death. He surrendered His body to our weakness and struggle. The Word of God came into our story so that He could write our story. We are not afraid of the unraveling of the world or the bondage to sin or death. Written in our story is the promise of our salvation in Christ Jesus.

In our sin we were unraveling the work of God, but the Word of God has come in the flesh to write again the story of God’s love. We are not drifting in a barren land that has become overtaken by darkness. God’s love has come in the flesh in Jesus Christ. In Christ Jesus we have the promise that the Word of God is at work in the world. We are not drifting in a world of neglect.

St. Athanasius wrote in the fourth century about the powerful glory of God coming to dwell in our flesh. One of the images he used to rejoice in the coming of the Word of God is the image of a king that comes to dwell in a city that had long been neglected through the carelessness of the inhabitants. The city had been so weakened by decay that robbers easily attacked it. The king comes to the city and saves it from destruction, having higher regard for his own honor than the people’s neglect. Imagine that when a king enters a city and dwells in one of its houses that the whole city is honored because of his dwelling in that single house.

The whole city is honored and its dignity is restored because of the dwelling of the king in their midst. The enemies and the robbers no longer are able molest the city. The people live with the joy of the honor of the king instead of the despair of their shame. We rejoice that the King of kings has come into our flesh. Jesus has come and dwelt among us. Jesus foiled the work of the devil and we are no longer unraveling in our despair.

This Christmas we celebrate the King of kings has come to dwell among us. Jesus came wholly for us, so that we could be holy for him. The dignity of heaven was poured into our poor and neglected world, and we have found the wonder of God’s plans again written upon our hearts.

Advent waiting

Advent is an ancient custom of the church. It is a time of waiting and anticipation. During this time we are invited in the readings from Isaiah to remember the Old Testament waiting for the messiah to come to rescue God’s people. We also find ourselves joining with Christians around the world as we eagerly anticipate the return of Christ on the Day of the Lord.

Since the fourth century, Christians have been observing this time of Advent as a period of fasting and penitence. As the darkness of winter crushes the spirit, I seize this moment to also be reminded that my sin is crushing me. Humanity is filled with a darkness that we cannot find our way out and so we need a new light to shine in this darkness. This time of preparation in Advent is a time to remember our need for the divine promises of God to be filled. The candles of the Advent wreath gradually are lit during this season and the fullness of God’s promises are anticipated.

It is in the midst of the winter darkness and my own sinfulness that I marvel that God would take upon himself our humanity. Jesus is the incarnation, the coming in the flesh, of our Lord God. As dark in death our sin has brought us, we are invited to rejoice that God has become flesh and dwelled among us. Even as I remember during this time of preparation my own sinfulness, I also rejoice that God has come to dwell among His people and rescue us lost and condemned sinners.

Hope restored in the Advent of our King

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His disciples laid down cloaks along the path. This act was a reminder of an event that took place in 2 King 9. King Joram of Israel had retreated to Jezreel, after being defeat by Hazael of Syria. Meanwhile, Jehu and the other commanders of the army remained at Ramoth-Gilead. These commanders were gathered in defeat. They expected that this sense of defeat was the new normal. At that moment when hope has become exhausted and defeat was expected, Jehu was anointed to be the new king. Jehu left the inner chamber of the house and told the people gathered what happened. The people immediately laid down their cloaks on the bare steps and rejoiced. Jehu then gathered the hopes of the people and traveled to Jezreel and defeated the failed kings of Israel and Judah. He then went to ensure that Jezebel was killed. It was a bloody transition of power.

We are in a time of the advent of our king and so we tell people that Jesus, the king of kings, has come to deliver us from defeat and despair. It is a bloody transition of power, but thanks be to God that He is the one that experiences the bloody judgment that should be upon us all. He is our king that restores us to be people in the kingdom of God and no longer in the kingdom of defeat.