The Cross in Christmas

Our Christmas season has taken us through incredibly busy weeks, school programs and parties, dance rehearsals and recitals, and church commitments.

But, none of those scheduled appointments makes Christmas, well, Christmas.

As we’ve worked through our annual Christmas Countdown using The Family Book of Advent, one devotion last week brought Christmas into perspective for me in the midst of balancing expectations, making it on time to the next event and struggling with exhaustion.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

– Matthew 2:1-2

This passage of Scripture resonates deeply with me. The wise men recognized a King had been born. They saw His star, in the midst of their important lives, and stopped everything. They decided to leave what they knew to find this King, setting aside their doubts and their fears, and putting their faith into action. For them, worshiping Jesus was worth the sacrifice, worth the journey.

Our glowstick path through the living room

Our glowstick path through the living room

The kids and I considered what we knew about the wise men, their commitment to seeing the King personally and how they gave Him their hearts and treasure in worship. We broke into a few tubes of glowsticks, and made paths through the house for each other, with Jesus figurines from our Nativity sets and the end of the line. Each child made a path for their sibling to follow, just like the wise men looked to the star to find the newborn King.

A few captured moments from our glowstick Nativity adventures

A few captured moments from our glowstick Nativity adventures

Then, we combined all our glowsticks to make a path through the entire living room to the manger of our largest Nativity set. What ended up happening drew us to the Cross in Christmas.

Glowstick after glowstick was laid, and a path was drawn from the stable to the Christmas tree on the opposite side of the room. When the wise men gave Jesus their treasures, they offered gifts to honor who He was and to prepare Him for the journey that lay ahead. Gold testified that He was King, and frankincense that He was Priest and would mediate between God and man. That way would be made through the message of the myrrh, an oil used for embalming, foreshadowing the death necessary for my redemption, and yours.

The glowsticks in the living room marked the way from the manger to the cross, symbolized in the Christmas tree.

Christmas has no meaning without the cross. It’s why He came. God was made flesh to be lifted high, for nails to pierce His hands and feet. The baby in the stable would be the One to purchase my salvation.

The cross is what makes Christmas, Christmas.

The Advent that almost wasn’t

It’s the third day of December.

Usually by this time of the year, I’ve posted my annual “Make Christmas Count” appeal, and detailed how families can really invest in their children by planting the Gospel message deep in their hearts during Advent.

It’s the third day of December, and I have no well-thought out posts or programs to share with you.

Since my kids were very little, my husband and I have made it a priority to countdown the days to Christmas and spend quality time together as a family focusing on Christ’s story every day in December. We have made precious memories each year, and it’s become a tradition all of us anticipate.

Yet since October this year, when I’ve thought about what we were going to do for December, my only reaction was stress.

Our Christmas season is action-packed, with barely any breathing room. How are we supposed to squeeze in an Advent family experience amidst school music programs, Nutcracker ballet performances and church activities? Stress, with a capital S.

Thanksgiving hit, and I knew it was make or break time. None of our previous plans really fit where we are a family this year, and especially our schedule for this December. So, were we going to do Advent or not?

As I scrambled, trying to draw up plans for an abridged program to work around our chaotic schedule, I finally just stopped. I looked up at my kids, my family, my home. I saw the sparkle in my son’s eye as he worked to hang ornaments on the tree in just the right places, and heard my daughter’s delightful glee as the Christmas lights came on.

Advent calendar boxEach child arranged, and rearranged, our many Nativity scenes that particular day. While I was looking over their progress, I noticed Jesus was missing from one of the groupings.

“Lauren, where is baby Jesus?” I asked, beginning to look around on the floor and behind the entertainment system.

My five-year-old came running over, with an excited grin.

“Don’t worry Mom! I put Jesus in the Advent calendar.”

She had tenderly placed Jesus in our Advent calendar’s Day 25 box, as the gift for us on Christmas Day.

All the planning and stress of the holiday season doesn’t make Christmas more special or bring Jesus into our celebrations. He is already there.

Advent isn’t a program to squeeze into Christmas. Advent reminds us to slow down and treasure our Savior, to celebrate that Jesus came and He is coming again.

For our family, focusing on Jesus this Christmas will be our priority. If that means adjusting some of our plans, fine. But, we are each committed to enjoying each day as it is, even if our schedules are crazy, because it’s a day to lift up Jesus together.

Family Book of AdventAfter all my stress, God reminded me of a little book my father-in-law had given me a few Christmases ago called The Family Book of Advent by Carol Garborg. Last Saturday, I picked it up and read it in one sitting, immediately knowing this simple book, with it’s applicable Biblical devotions and optional activities, was just what our family needed.

So, December 1, we all woke up early, and snuggling together under the covers we began our Christmas Countdown. When we finished our short Bible story, we went out to the living room in our pjs, put up the number of days until December 25, and jumped up and down in anticipation of Christmas and what God had in store this month for each of us. Later that night, after a full evening of dance lessons and errands, we carved out time to create Christmas wreaths. Just like a circle never ends, we can know that Jesus is always King.

The kids hold up their Advent wreaths, where we will add different names of Jesus from Scripture during the month.

The kids hold up their Advent wreaths, where we will add different names of Jesus from Scripture during the month. Of course, they wanted ribbon infused with glitter, which we will also have all over our floors the entire Christmas season!

Yesterday, Dec. 2, we had another early morning Bible study, this time curled up on the couch in our pajamas. We considered God’s promises in the Old Testament, and how God always keeps His Word. After AWANA, we wrapped a present and placed colored pictures of leaves, an angel, food and hearts inside. They remind us of the promises that God never leaves us, God sends His angels to watch over us, God feeds the birds of the air and He will take care of us too, and that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love.

Jackson and Lauren open our present filled with God's promises.

Jackson and Lauren open our present filled with God’s promises.

Today, we will have our family time this evening. No day this Advent season will be the same. I’m also not sure how blog-worthy our Christmas Countdown will be this month, though I will try to share some of our experiences. But, that’s not the point.

When we look back on these years, we aren’t going to recall the specific activities, ornate art projects or detailed decorations.

We will remember that we were together, and Jesus was there.