“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” This spirited Christmas song by Andy Williams (1963) plays repeatedly in my thoughts, as I recount my past days full of decorated trees, hanging mistletoe, the super-extravagant Santa-Con, twinkling lights, baked cookies, and jolly music. So much goodness. And yet, too much opportunity for distraction. If you’re anything like me, you consciously focus your thoughts, holding them captive, because you know that there are many good things competing for your attention during the Christmas season. The things of this world will win my thoughts if I don’t make room for Him. The doings of this season will consume my five children if I don’t refocus their attention. I pause quietly, remembering to just be still. I find a quiet place by the cozy fireside, taking note of the snowflakes, each one unique, fluttering down on my young ones earlier that day. As I breathe deeply and ponder the “reason for the season,” I consider those blessing-gifts who my husband and I are called to raise up in the Lord. How might my family’s faith traditions and rhythms impact who these young ones become, who and what they treasure, and what they pass on to their children? In a society that models instant gratification, waiting with anticipation can increase our wonder and amazement. But, how do we come with hopeful expectancy to the One who came to rescue us – the One who comes daily to our rescue? How do we keep it the “most wonderful time of the year”?
Christmas is one week away, and it marks the end of Advent, a season holy to many Christians throughout history and across the globe. The Advent season represents “the coming” or “waiting” for the Lord. Believers across the globe practice celebrating Advent uniquely, but many may not know its roots or profound impact on Christians. The Latin translation for Advent is Adventus, and the Greek is parousia. Adventus represents 1) the coming of Christ in human flesh and 2) His Second Coming. Celebrating Advent and Christmas can help remind believers that we live in the intersection between the Resurrection and Second Coming; these holy traditions are reflective of everything since the birth of Jesus and all we hope for in His return. These traditions can remind faithful followers that our God broke into history as a newborn babe because He loved us first – and His kingdom shall reign in heaven as it is on earth.
Advent represents the arrival of a new, Christian liturgical year. The initial two weeks of Advent focus on the Second Coming, whereby believers wait with anticipation on the coming of the Lord. The final two weeks of Advent help transition believers to focus on the first Parousia, Jesus Christ who came to us as a babe in a manger.
Practices associated with Advent, such as Advent calendars, wreaths, devotionals, and prayer cards, in addition to Nativity Sets and Jesse Trees, help families keep their focus on the hopeful expectancy of the coming King. Since 2013, our family has enjoyed using Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas as a guide to our Advent practices. We have celebrated Advent both privately as a family and in community with groups of other families – and the Jesse Tree has centered our celebrations.
The Jesse Tree depicts the lineage of Jesus, beginning with Creation through His birth. Voskamp uses the Scripture below to highlight the picture she paints about how we can unwrap the greatest gift – Jesus Christ. Simply reading these Scripture daily focuses my family’s attention rightly not on the many things of this season, but on One person who is both a gift to receive and a gift to give.
(Each image to the right corresponds with the daily Scripture below.)
1. Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot. Jesse Tree - Isaiah 11:1
2. God created human beings in His own image. Created Man - Genesis 1:27
3. They hid from the Lord God among the trees. The Fall - Genesis 3:8
4. Noah found favor with the Lord. Rainbow Covenant - Genesis 6:8
5. I will bless you…and you will be a blessing to others. Father Abraham - Genesis 12:2
6. God has brought me laughter. Baby Isaac - Genesis 21:6
7. Abraham named that place The Lord Provides. Isaac's Sacrifice Mirrors Jesus's Sacrifice - Genesis 22:14
8. Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it. Jacob's Ladder - Genesis 28:16
9. You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. Joseph - Genesis 50:20
10. The Lord said to me… “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever.” 10 Commandments - Deuteronomy 5:28-29
11. You must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window. Rahab, Jericho - Joshua 2:18
12. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Naomi, Ruth, Boaz - Ruth 1:16
13. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Shepherd David - 1 Sam 16:7
14. The people who walk in darkness will see a light. Prophecy of Jesus - Isaiah 9: 2
15. How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him! 1 Kings 18:21
16. Go…and deliver the message I have given you. Jonah - Jonah 3:2
17. You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village. Bethlehem Prophesied - Micah 5:2
18. I will go to see the King. Queen Esther - Esther 4:16
19. I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard-post. There I will wait to see what the Lord says. Habakkuk 2:1
20. He will prepare people for the people for the coming of the Lord. John the Baptist - Luke 1:17
21. Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! John the Baptist - Matthew 3:3
22. Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you. Virgin Mary, Mother of God - Luke 1:28
23. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Joseph, Jesus' Human Father -Matthew 1:23
24. She…laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Baby Jesus! - Luke 2:7
25. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today. Immanuel, God is With Us! - Luke 2:11
Our family’s Advent traditions and rhythms impact who our children are becoming. In the section on Thoughts to Discuss, Voskamp asks family members to share prayer requests. My third daughter (almost 10) shared a prayer request that I would not have known without this prompting: the homeless weigh heavy on her heart. “I am especially sad for homeless children. Some have to sleep outdoors at night, and it’s so cold.” Two other daughters found one of the Family Activities to be a blessing to a friend; they helped me prepare a meal and gift a family who recently welcomed a new baby. These are the sorts of invisible gifts our God gives to us when we focus our eyes and hearts on Him. May you and yours find the right focus during this Advent season. May you wait with expectancy on the One who came to rescue you and yours – the One who comes daily to shower you with His unending love. As you receive His greatest gift, may your wonder and amazement grow in ways you never thought possible.