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Anticipating the Messiah (Celebrating Advent)




Anticipating the Messiah (Celebrating Advent)

Jessalyn Hutto

Yesterday we looked at the motivation behind celebrating a Christ-centered Christmas. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to take the time to read yesterday’s post before moving on to these practical suggestions for Christ-centered traditions. 

Now that you are considering how you can cultivate a distinctly Christian Christmas celebration in your home, let’s look at some practical ways to do so. Keep in mind that no family should do all of these things. Trying to do too much during the holiday season, even good things, can result in a loss of the meditative spirit we are hoping to cultivate. Many of these traditions overlap and some of them cannot be done at the same time. Choose the traditions that are the most meaningful to you or use these suggestions as inspiration to create your own Christ-centered traditions.

Through sharing a wealth of ideas with you, I hope to prove that by focusing on Christ, rather than the many materialistic and mystical traditions the world focuses on, you are not giving up a joyful, meaningful, memorable Christmas. On the contrary, by focusing our hearts and minds on the Living God throughout the Christmas season, we will do lasting good to our lives, our children’s lives, and the lives of the watching world around us. Today we will start with advent activities.

Anticipating the Messiah King Through Advent

(Advent: The coming of the Messiah)

Advent Wreaths/Candles- There are many ways to use candles during advent. You can simply have 25 tea light candles which are lit one by one as the days get closer to Christmas or you can celebrate with the traditional Advent Wreath, which also makes a great centerpiece for your table!

An advent wreath is very easy to make and is a fun activity for your family to collectively participate in as you look forward to celebrating the coming of the Messiah. It consists of four candles placed in the vines of a wreath and a white “Christ” candle in the center. The four colored candles are lit each of the Sundays before Christmas one by one until they are all lit. (The first week only one candle is lit, the second week two are lit, etc…) This is meant to symbolize the coming of the Light of the World. Traditionally three of the candles are purple and one is pink (the purple symbolizes royalty and the pink symbolizes the anticipation of Christmas, thus it is a mixture of the purple and white candles). The center candle is larger and white. It is lit Christmas Eve or Christmas day to symbolize Christ entering our world. You can easily encorporate this tradition with nightly or weekly devotions that focus on the coming Messiah.

What we do: In the past we have only used simple advent candles around our nativity scene, and most recently we used an advent wreath that I made. I used four red candles to symbolize the bloody sacrificial system that was used up until Christ, the Lamb of God, who’s sacrifice sealed our pardon for all of eternity. We have one very large, beautiful white candle to symbolize the pure and holy Christ entering our world. Each night that we light a new candle we read a different prophesy that relates to the Messiah coming to save the world.

Advent Wreath/Candle Resources:

Advent/Jesse Tree- This tradition is typically reserved for those of us with children, but I would encourage even those without children to use the advent readings as you prepare your heart for the celebration of Christ’s birth. (Here is a sample list of readings. There are many different options online and even devotional books you can purchase.) The Jesse Tree is named after Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots.”  It is a vehicle to tell the progressive story of redemption throughout the Old Testament, and to connect the Advent Season with the faithfulness of God across 4,000 years of history. The “shoot” or “branch” coming from Jesse’s lineage is a symbol of the hope Israel had in a coming Messiah. Each ornament hung on a small tree, or in many homes a branch, or for some on a banner, represents a particular moment in salvific history. For instance the first ornament would be something like a globe symbolizing creation and then perhaps a fruit symbolizing the fall. Each night leading up to Christmas you read a section of scripture related to one particular moment in the history of Christ’s lineage and then hang a corresponding ornament. Most people make their own ornaments with their children, but you can also buy kits like the one offered in today’s giveaway at the bottom of this post!

What we do: Our Jesse Tree is our Christmas Tree. Rather than having a separate tree that is more “spiritual” or Jesus focused, we decided to make the main purpose of our Christmas tree to celebrate the Messiah. Each night we add an ornament to our Christmas Tree and read the corresponding scriptures which takes the place of our usual family worship. This year I have finally gotten around to making my own ornaments that are a bit nicer than our previous paper ornaments. I chose artwork that featured the actual scenes or people we would be reading about rather than symbols and decoupaged them into ornament frames. I used red ribbon to hang them with to symbolize the blood of Christ which runs through all of redemptive history.

Jessie Tree Resources:

A Growing Nativity- Nativity scenes are an obvious way to decorate your home with the Gospel message. In fact, Noel Piper collects nativity scenes from their travels and fills her home with them on Christmas! Another way to build anticipation for Christ’s coming is to slowly build your nativity scene over the advent season rather than setting out the whole thing at once. You can either set it out piece by piece every couple of days (depending on how many pieces you have) or you can simply save Jesus for Christmas Eve/Day. Either way leave Jesus for last to represent the “wait” for the Messiah.

Advent Calendars (for families with children)- We are all familiar with Advent calendars, which can be a fun way for children to count down the days until Christmas. Rather than a calendar with Santa art on it, look for one that focuses on the nativity or create one of your own.

Advent Calendar Resources:

What we do: I am hoping to one day create an advent calendar with our Jesse Tree ornaments either by hanging them on a board under corresponding numbers or by hanging them in little numbered pouches over our “future fireplace.”

Advent Books (for families with children)- Let Christmas be a special time to bring out all of your Nativity centered books and books about the Christian Christmas message. As you build your collection or find new books to check out at the library wrap them like presents and mark them with numbers counting down to the days until Christmas. (If you only have three such books this year start three nights before Christmas, let the countdown get larger as your collection of books grows.) Try to find at least one new book every year to either add to the collection or replace another book once your collection is big enough. Open one book each morning as a special way to prepare your hearts for Christmas. Reserve the newest book for Christmas Day and let it be the first present you open and read together before opening all the other presents. Look for a list of books our family uses and recommends next week!