By Lori Manry
Several years ago, I began praying how to lead my children into intentional celebration during the holidays. I wanted to discern how to faithfully welcome Jesus among the boughs of holly and brown paper packages tied up with string. As I sought the Lord, he birthed in me some Advent thoughts that later became 11 conversations called This is How We Welcome.
These conversations are intended to help us engage a season of active waiting and preparing for the coming of Jesus. They can happen between two people, a family, a small group or simply between you and God. Each Advent thought has sections to be read out loud and sections intended to stimulate dialogue.
My hope is for these 11 conversations to initiate active responses throughout the days of waiting for Christmas. And that the discussions would bear life in you and your family throughout the coming year. I’m excited to share that This is How We Welcome will be included in WONDER, the special holiday bundle in December.
Check back here over the next several weeks for little peeks into the devotional, and for inspiration into facilitating these intentional moments during the holidays.
Now I don’t know about you, but I struggle committing to anything that has to be done on a daily basis. I will inevitably get so behind that I don’t even know how to effectively catch up! So, it is with great intention that there are only three Advent thoughts per week leading up to Christmas. Our family carves out about 30 minutes a few times a week to gather together to read and talk.
Now…I’d like to tell you that these moments are oozing with divine inspiration. But, the reality is, they are full of distractions and interruptions. That’s just the phase of life we’re in! And if it’s your phase too, don’t let that stop you from engaging these intentional times during the holidays. ‘Cause in the end we are always thankful for the perfectly imperfect moments when we’re all gathered in the living room, fumbling for words and shushing the little people. It won’t always look pretty. It won’t always feel super spiritual. It will sometimes be awkward. And that’s okay.
But the truths that will be spoken as you gather are oozing with divine inspiration. And they will awaken in your heart new understandings of what it means for Christ to be born. Not just unto this world, but into you. So with your sin, with your awkwardness, with all your short comings and interrupting children – surrender just a little time a few nights a week and fly open the doors of your heart to receive him.
Sometimes we need reminders or visuals of the process we’re trying to engage. Historically, those participating in Advent have embraced the lighting of candles and the inclusion of an Advent wreath.
For this particular devotional, I invite you to create an Advent Altar, something to gather near as you lay down offerings of preparation. The altar will serve as a place to hang symbols of sacrifice and active waiting for Jesus. Below are two suggestions on how to create an Advent Altar.
But here’s the thing – the conversations are way more important than the visual! If you choose not to create the altar, the time together in conversation will be just as effective without it.
A Tree Altar can be made by gathering branches from outside or by purchasing curly willow from a store like Michaels and place in a vase. You can hang ornaments on the branches after each time you gather for an Advent thought. A Window Altar can be made by stapling 11 ribbons of different lengths on the top of the molding around one of your windows (If you staple them on the top ledge of the molding, the holes left behind won’t be seen when you later remove the staples). Tie the ornaments to the ends of these ribbons each time you gather.
With both the tree and window altar, you will need to collect 11 ornaments that represent each Advent thought. Below, I suggest images to choose from. You may already have several of the ornaments with your Christmas tree decorations. Or your children can simply color pictures of each image and you can cut them into ornaments and punch a hole to tie a string on each one. I pieced my collection from ornaments I already had, a few made from paper and a few purchased at Target and Hobby Lobby.
1. A cross
2. A gift box/present
3. A heart
4. A clock
5. Baby Jesus
6. Mary and/or Joseph
7. A manger
8. A star
9. A church or a picture of your family
10. A nativity scene or Bible
11. An ornament with 2015 written on it (next year)
This year, Advent begins on Sunday, November 30th. As we collectively anticipate the coming of Jesus, please join the Wild and Free community as we learn together how to receive him – how to welcome Christmas – in a fresh and beautiful way.