"And the people who were walking in darkness have seen a great light."
Candles flickered on the green wreath as one more friend piled through our creaky old door from the cold, snowy street. Sitting around our orphan table recently purchased at a second hand furniture store, I felt quite pleased with the ambiance and the company sharing our table in our small, chilly Austrian cottage.
An Iraqi refugee we met at church, asked us to pray he could get a passport so that he could go back to visit his mother who had cancer. Another Austrian friend teared up as he asked us to pray for the overwhelming pain he was feeling from having his wife leave him for another. My sweet Bible study mate mentioned the homesickness she felt working at the United Nations alone, thousands of miles from Taiwan. My own father had cancer and his illness prohibited us from going home for Christmas with our infant Joel and 2 1/2 year old Sarah.
All of us had a hole in our hearts, a longing for comfort, for hope of a comfort, or assurance that we would find light amidst the shadows of darkness swimming around inside.
Clay read from Isaiah 9:2,
"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in the land of darkness, light will shine." We spent the evening eating hot buttered herb bread, savoring steaming bowls of potato cheese soup, munching nuts and cheese, but living in the comfort of each other's encouragement and love. This celebration of His coming heartened us all.
I love advent. It prepares me every year to remember how amazingly inspiring His coming is. Just the picture of a tiny infant, being celebrated by angels, a young mother and father caught up in the miracle of a new birth warms my heart to the depths. So much to celebrate in this timeless story. But during the busy month ahead, to take time to prepare our hearts for His coming is a life long habit of worship that will strengthen us the whole year.
My sweet friend Holly Pakiam and I speak of this in our podcast today. I have asked her to write about what Advent means to her at this time and to share favorite books and resources. I hope you will enjoy our list.
We spent Thanksgiving week last year with family up in the mountains. Amidst the frequent meltdowns, fights, and disarray in our rental condo, we experienced brief ‘stabs of joy’, as C.S. Lewis called it— moments that helped us transcend the moment. Joy matters not only because it makes the toil and the cost of life worthwhile, but because it can lead to hope; it can remind us that there is more than what we see and feel.
That same week, tragedy struck our city as three lives were lost in a deplorable shooting at Planned Parenthood. Our hearts, still heavy from the terrorist attacks in Paris weeks earlier, were sinking with grief. Superficial joy has nothing to say to such pain. And today as I reflect on those events, my heart is heavy in moments as I reflect on our current political situation, the hate, and the atrocities being committed around the world.
The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday season’ isn’t that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas’; it’s that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.
This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return.
Advent is a joy that helps us hope.
Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.
But there’s one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.
As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in people’s hearts?
Maybe its through buying slave-free products or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘see’ your neighbor who’s going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. We’ve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.
Soon, all around the world, we will light the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.
Here are the resources and ideas we mentioned on the podcast. Remember the point: to center our lives on Jesus! Pick one thing!
Be the answer to the longing in someone’s heart.
• Acts of Kindness: Each day, commit to engage in an act of kindness toward a family member, friend, or neighbor. (Spend focused time with a child, bring a hot drink to a friend, deliver a warm meal to a family, give a baked good to the mailman)
• Serve Locally: Commit to serve a local organization, like a Rescue Mission or a Salvation Army or a shelter. You could also gather a group to go caroling at a nursing home.
• Give Globally: Give something to an organization that serves people in need around the world. Last year, our kids chose to give a goat and chickens to a family in Africa.
• Consume Less: Consider discussing how shopping less and giving out more to others could make this season more holy and Christ-focused. Encourage your kids in giving to others rather than thinking about what to add to their Christmas list.
What we try to build in…
• Devotional: Family read-aloud favorite:
• Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love.
• The first two weeks focus on the second coming of Christ. The prayers, Scripture readings, and hymns are more solemn, drawing us to repentance as we look toward the last days.
• In the second two weeks, the mood lightens. We turn our focus to Christ’s birth and begin our joyful preparations for Christmas.
• In a devotion, you could pray, “Tonight, all around the world, we light the purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. Until then…we wait.
• Jesse Tree
- Tracing Jesus’ lineage - family tree
- Each day, read a story of Jesus’s family tree
- Color & hang an ornament
• Midwinter Carols by Joel Clarkson
We received so many letters about this cd last year. So happy you loved it. Providing music for every day of the season, and creating an atmosphere of peace. Enjoy.
• Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson
We love Andrew and he tours each year presenting this in a concert.
• Advent Volume I by The Brilliance
All Things Advent Resource
A wonderful all around resource/blog post you will love.
I, Sally, love Elizabeth Foss and I know you will love this resource. You will find it so personally encouraging.
• Comfort and Joy - Living the Liturgy During the Advent Season ebook Bundle by Elizabeth Foss
Favorite Advent and Christmas Picture Books for Children
• The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
This book is one of the Clarkson kids favorite stories!
• The Gift of the Magi by O Henry
I, Sally, also love this classic story and read it and was touched when in high school.
• Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
• The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Wahlberg
• The Legend of St Nicholas Dandi McCall
• Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery
• The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
• The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Another favorite collection of advent stories to use with children begins with Jotham's Journey. Many consider this a favorite and a heart-warming story.
Can't leave out one of my favorite books--may be out of print. It will bring sweet tears and is a great story for your children to think about what giving sometimes costs.
There are lots more in my home, but you will just have to come visit me and see my library and have a cup of cheer.
I hope you will enjoy the podcast I did with Holly to encourage you in your own advent journey.
I am so excited to share my new book with you and hope it will encourage many who have felt different or have had a child who is outside the box in any way. I hope my journey as a mom with my son, Nathan, 27, will encourage and inspire you to know you are not alone in your journey. Order it today! HERE