A couple weeks ago while I was shopping, the sales clerk asked me, “Do you do anything special for Christmas?” Before I could even register what she was asking, she continued, “Like Elf on a Shelf? Do you do Elf on a Shelf? I’ve heard that is pretty fun!” Now, for those of you mothers who take your children shopping with you, you know that to manage keeping your kids from touching of all those little glittery toys and candy they put in the check out lanes, answering “no” to the thirtieth “Mommy, can I have that?” all the while trying to make sure your other children don’t run the grocery cart into other customers, ensure that all of your groceries end up going home with you AND that you pay for them first, takes an awful lot of concentration. To add a half-brained, decent conversation to the mix is nearly impossible. In a haste, I answered her “no” because, besides the fact that I was getting really skilled at saying "no" while standing in the check out lane with my children, I couldn’t find a more polite way in the moment to tell her that Christmas is not about elves, but about Jesus.
I’m sure Elf on a Shelf is fun, just like she suggested. And I’m not knocking people who do it. My cousin does it with her children, and man, is she ever clever with that little elf! And doesn’t that display something about the glory of God? I think it does. But the truth is, no matter what fun games we might play or traditions we may have this time of year, Christmas really IS about Jesus. It is about the condescension of a holy God, leaving his throne in heaven, to be born in a cattle stall, to live a lowly, humble, servant life that he might one day lay it down in order to rescue his rebellious creation. Now THAT is something to celebrate!
I have kicked myself nearly every day since that store encounter, because I was not prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within me (1 Peter 3:15). Because really, my answer is an emphatic, “YES! We do something VERY special for Christmas!”
In January we are going to be launching a new blog series, “How to Preach the Gospel to Your Children.” This will include resources for families and singles who don’t have children as well, because preaching the Gospel to our own selves daily is necessary, and passing the Gospel onto the next generation is not limited to parents. The main point is equipping God’s people with tools to live out God’s mandate in Deuteronomy 6:6 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” But this is such a special season as we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Christ, I had to start now with sharing about one very special way we share the Gospel with our children through what we call Advent.
Advent simply means “a coming.” The lights come out, the decorations appear, the music plays… This year my oldest said, “I just love the feeling that comes with this time of year.” And he is right. The world will try to steal the glory replacing the manger with images of Santa, replacing giving with consumerism, replacing O Holy Night with Jingle Bell Rock, but we want to instill in our children the nostalgia of something greater: the anticipation of the coming of the glory of the Lord in human form.
When the kids were little, we gave them the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Her tagline is “Every story whispers His name.” Because, well, every story whispers His name. The promise of a rescue didn’t begin when Jesus was born, but it was in God’s mind in eternity before the world was ever created. Jesus was first promised to us in Genesis 3 when man fell, and He is on every single page of Scripture. The Jesus Storybook Bible does such a great job of capturing, in children’s language, how each Old Testament Story really points to something greater: the coming messiah. And so, we began here. We got an advent box, made ornaments which fit inside our advent boxes (from a template and instructions we found online) that go along with each of the Old Testament stories in The Jesus Storybook Bible, we got a Jesse tree (Isaiah 11:1) on which to hang them, and because our kids were little and radically altered by sugar, one little M&M for each child to go in each box. Every evening for the month of December, we gather on the couch after dinner, near the sparkling lights of the Christmas tree, where the children take turns opening the evening’s box, hanging the ornament on the Jesse tree, distributing M&M’s, and cozying up to hear the next Old Testament story that points us to the coming messiah, the one we are (not-so) patiently waiting to celebrate December 25.
Our children are older now, but their favorite thing about preparing for Christmas is still our evening Advent readings and the excitement over “Who gets to open the box tonight?!” They’re even still super excited over the one little M&M they get each evening. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8
Although I adore it and am encouraged by it even now (and recommend it even to adults), you don’t have to be limited to the Jesus Storybook Bible. There are many resources out there, and with the invention of the internet, really the possibilities are quite extensive. I’d love to hear in the comments what you use for Advent! The point is this... This time of year brings with it something special that even the world cannot deny. And so we must take the time each December to quiet our hearts, to quiet our children’s hearts, to remember the Gospel, and to ponder what really is so special about Christmas that we may prepare Him room.
Some Favorite Advent Resources:
- Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie
- The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper
- Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp
- Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas by Nancy Guthrie
- Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Family Devotional by Marty Machowski
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
- Peace: Classic Readings for Christmas by Stephen J. Nichols
- Lamplighter Theater: Christmas, Eight Dramatized Bible Stories