Christmas Hymn

Gloucester Cathedral Choir and congregation sing In the Bleak Midwinter
Beautiful and moving.
Does He have my heart today?

I’m setting this up in January – thank you for grace if there are gliches upon its scheduled appearance.

A Free Gift for your Advent Worship

I am thrilled to be able to offer you a free gift to aid your worship of the Savior this season. Our family has been deeply blessed by the use of the Advent Wreath, and I pray that this offering of a free e-book will bless and aid your worship as well, whether you are worshipping alone or with a house full of family.

Just right click on the following link and choose “Save Target As” to save the .pdf file to your computer.

Anticipating the Savior – The Advent Wreath as a Tool for Worship

I would be delighted for you to share this book with your friends and family. Would give me the grace of directing them here to share, please?

If you would like a link-button for your site or blog, feel free to use the code found on this post at my new (really still in-the-works) website:

A Free Gift for your Advent Worship

Quick shopping list for your Advent Wreath:
Four candles for the outer ring of candles. They can be tapers, votive, pillars… or whatever works for you. Depending on preference and availability, you need three purple or blue, and one pink or red. You might consider purchasing an extra set in case the first burns too low.
One white candle for the center Christ candle. I like to use a pillar, but find what suits you.
Candle holders for safety. I use simple individual candle holders for my tapers, and a small glass plate for my pillar.
Greenery of some sort for your wreath. An actual wreath, a length of garland, live evergreen branches… the form is much less important than the heart!

Christmas Pictures

Mostly a for-the-grandparents post, with cute pictures and brief concluding thoughts…

Christmas Day Pictures

Handmade sibling gifts – It was a blessing to be a part of the making of these gifts of love!

From their parents – handmade lapdesks and thrifty books

Gifts from and to a dear friend, who would like a quiet corner of the internet, but who was a very special part of our Christmas day. We love you, girl!

Gifts from G’pa and G’ma Smith

Christmas Dinner and Games. Fun times!

A few days later, we had Second Christmas when a box arrived from Papa and Mama Byrd

Books for the Blessings

Journals for the Blessings (and a bus for Stephen)

Assorted goodies for J&L and Andrew

We’re thankful to our parents for honoring our desire for a simplified Christmas this year. We love you all and are so thankful for your support over the years. We have the best folks around!

Christmas/Advent Thoughts

Some post-Christmas thoughts on the Advent season and our developing family traditions as we seek to keep our focus on the Christ who was born to die that we might live eternally. Not prescribing or mandating for anyone else. These are simply some ways He is showing our family His grace at Christmas.

I wrote in early December about a couple of our Advent traditions and how blessedly they have helped us focus more on the Saviour during the season in which the world celebrates* His coming. Ann Voskamp‘s Jesse Tree book was such a helpful addition to our following of the story of redemption this December, and I loved being able to recommend it to folks. Our family Advent Wreath tradition continues to evolve, and I am prayerfully considering putting together a free downloadable Advent Wreath resource for next Advent season.

We wound up planning a trip to visit my folks and family in Florida during the third week of December. It wasn’t my first choice for timing, but God’s timing has this way of being better than mine, and He came through again with perfect timing and a wonderful trip.

I knew in November, as I looked ahead to December, that I was going to have abundant opportunity to stretch-and-release my expectation and perfectionism muscles. The Father was gracious in helping me to relax, to enjoy the moments, and let go of many less-than-important things that I ordinarily would think of as important.

So, our house was not dressed-to-the-nines this Christmas. When the Christmas boxes were brought down, a couple of them hid in the attic and avoided us altogether! I didn’t unpack my beloved Christmas dishes; the doors and bookcases didn’t have lights and garland; the wall hanging were not re-done for Christmas; we got out just a couple of ornaments for each family member; etc.

But oh the fun we had! And how our hearts worshipped our Creator made flesh!

We caught up on our missed week of the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath during the week before Christmas. We also did some fun things that we’d either not done before or haven’t done for years.

We made salt-dough ornaments



We baked and decorated sugar cookies


We strung popcorn for our tree

I don’t remember ever doing this before in my life and I loved it. Davey popped two batches of popcorn in our air popper, and the next day we started stringing (I’d read that it works better if the popcorn has a bit of time to get stale before stringing). We would put a section on the tree whenever it seemed like it was getting too long, and put the last piece up Christmas Eve day. Definitely planning to do this again. And maybe we’ll string cranberries next year, too.
We let the Blessings hang Christmas lights in their rooms. They loved it, and it reminded me of college days.
While in Florida, I put up and decorated Papa and Mama’s tree for them. It was such fun!

Simplified Homemade Gifting
A college friend of Jonathan’s unintentionally inspired us to a handmade Christmas this year. The Blessing’s sibling drawing led to some creative thinking (on both their part and mine), and they really enjoyed both the making and the giving of their gifts. I made lapdesks for the older seven Blessings, and cheated on the handmade theme when I saw a collapsable baby gym at the resale shop for $2 for Andrew (needed, cute, and cheap). We also gave used books that we had gotten throughout the year at library book sales and thrift stores. Stockings were simple… mostly fruit, nuts, a bit of candy, and a couple of trinkets each. We also made gifts for other family members (so of which still need to be sent, so I’m not talking about them even though I don’t think my brothers-in-law read my blog) and friends.
We have always sought to have a minimal number of gifts so that the focus is not on “the haul,” but I was surprised at how much freedom I found in the additional simplicity of this year’s gifting plan. Yes, I spent quite a lot of time helping Blessings work on gifts and making gifts myself. But gift-making as a labor of love is so much more enjoyable than shopping, in my opinion. Even when it keeps you up into the wee hours for several nights before Christmas because you didn’t plan ahead well enough. It also was easier to not get carried away with impulsive buying. To walk through the stores with their shelves of Christmas-targetted gifts and feel no stress? That was wonderful. And it freed me to worship and enjoy being with my family. Definitely a tradition I’m interested in continuing.

Tree notes: We bought our first fake tree of our married life this year. Last year, there was just too much stress over water-damage concerns. And since we were gone for a week, it was great to come home to a tree that was still in great condition. Instead of putting our Jesse Tree ornaments in a separate location, we hung them on our Christmas tree (and loved it that way) this year. Incidentally, we also purchased the second fake tree of our married life this year… the day after Christmas. It’s a smaller tree that was 50% off and will be a lovely Jesse Tree.

Whew, thanks for sticking with me through this long post (if you’re still reading!). I felt the need to “jot down” some thoughts, and I pray our journey is an encouragement to you.

*Yes, the worldly celebration is mangled and twisted, but isn’t it amazing that His coming is proclaimed and honored amidst the greed? Just a tiny foretaste of “every knee shall bow,” in my opinion.

Advent – Anticipating the Coming

Jonathan and I come from a church tradition that does not not embrace the celebration of Advent. Yet, over the last several years, two Advent traditions in particular have deepened and enriched our savoring of the Christmas season, and of the grand story of Redemption itself.

You can get a glimpse of our little journey if you click on “Advent” in the category cloud. I also thought I would share a bit about the Advent traditions that have become so meaningful to our family.

The Advent Wreath:
The basic physical layout of the wreath is four smaller candles (one for each week of Advent) surrounding a central white candle (the Christ candle, to remain unlit until Christmas Day). The candles are usually entwined with greenery or placed in an actual wreath. Usually, three of the surrounding candles are purple, while one is pink (to express Joy, a traditional them for week 3). Blue seems to be easier to find than purple in taper candles, which is what we use, so ours are often blue and pink. Some use blue and red. More important is the focusing theme for each week.

Each of the four weeks of Advent has a theme, which differ according to varying church traditions. During the first week, one of the surrounding candles is lit as the theme for that week is highlighted. In each of the following weeks, another candle is lit, so that during week 4, all four candles are lit while the wreath is in use.

Our Advent themes are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. In the evening after supper, we light the candle(s), read related Scripture, and sing related songs (carols, other hymns, Scripture songs, etc). Because we are not part of a church tradition that uses this tool, we have developed our own eclectic version. It is a time of quiet reflection (punctuated this year by little outbursts of energy from our darling three-year-old-in-need-of-training) that helps to ground us during a time of year when it is so easy to be distracted.

There are many websites that might be helpful if you are interested in learning more about Advent Wreaths. I’ve done a lot of searching as we’ve settled into our our family wreath tradition.

The Jesse Tree:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2

The Jesse Tree tradition is a tool that traces the Story of Redemption from Creation to the Coming of the Savior. Each day of Advent (or, in our house, as often as we can manage), the participants look at another piece of the tapestry that the Father wove in preparation for the coming of the Son. It is breathtaking to watch His plan unfold.

Each day, an ornament representing the day’s event is placed on the Jesse Tree. This can be a branch that you stick in a pot, an evergreen tree, or a tree formed on the wall by the ornaments themselves. One year we used a leftover giant campaign sign and painted our tree on the back side. The particulars are not a smidgen as important as the Story.

We are enjoying a new aid for our Jesse Tree this year, from Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience. There is a link on the righthand sidebar of her blog to a wonderful free ebook for the Jesse Tree. It gets right to the heart of the matter. So much so that I struggle to read through without tears of gratitude.

We have other “Christmas traditions,” but these two Advent tradtions have become a priceless part of the season for us. They are tools that we intentionally choose to use to calm and focus our hearts and minds. They make our anticipation and celebration richer and fuller.

What Advent/Christmas traditions aid you in focusing on the Grand Story?

Jesse Tree

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
Isaiah 11.1&2

The advent season has begun! Christmas music started playing in our home yesterday, we had our first advent devotional last night (sans the advent wreath, which has yet to be put together). And hopefully, I’ll manage get to some Christmas decorations in my unpacking and sorting today.

At lunch, the kids and I started our Jesse Tree. This is the second year for us to use this particular focusing tool. Last year, we made a big tree out of corrugated plastic and made our own ornaments. Sounds neat, doesn’t it? Except that we only got through about 16 of the 25+ lessons we intended to do!

This year, still being deeply in the work of moving, I am committed to finding simple ways to celebrate Advent/Christmas. I will settle for something that is not so fancy/perfect as I might like – because the point is to focus on our Lord’s coming, not to have a perfect method for doing so!

So, in contemplating what to do for our Jesse Tree this year (I don’t want to use the huge tree we used last year), the focus was on what will be simple/quick and help us train our thoughts and minds properly. After deliberating for while, I’ve decided that we won’t even have an actual tree to put our Jesse Tree ornaments this year. We’re going to use one of our glass back doors, and simply form a tree as we tape the ornaments to the glass.

And the ornaments? Instead of making our own, I printed out the ornaments from Faith Magazine that I found in my googling. I printed them in color, two pages on each sheet of cardstock because I wanted them to be smaller. I started to cut them all out, but realized that it was not truly needed for them all to be cut out today, so I rough cut the others enough that I could number them. I’ll cut them out as we go, or sometime when I need to sit down and rest for a while.

Guess what? I don’t think the forbidden fruit was an apple! I’m partial to Answers in Genesis’ illustration of it that looks more like a luscious purple hand-grenade – so apt. And I don’t think the ark was a round little thing that would never float. But the details of the symbols aren’t as important to me this year as they used to be.

The process of figuring out what our Jesse Tree plan is this year has been another reminder of the truth that these traditions are tools. They are not our masters, they simply have the potential to aid us as we focus on the true reason for the Christmas season. May you be blessed as you focus on Jesus, Creator of the Universe, born to die that we might live!

Advent

Do any of you use the traditions of Advent to aid their family’s focus at this time of year?

We’ve been learning bits about Advent traditions over the last couple of years, and have decided to incorporate some of them into our family celebrations this year. It seems like such a neat way to focus on what we truly have to celebrate!

Yes, we’re in the second week of Advent already, and I just finished our Advent Wreath today. But that’s okay, because this is a Tool to aid our worship, not something by which we will be ruled. So we’re going to act like the next few days are the first week and the rest of this week will be the second week.

Last year, some friends of ours were using an Advent wreath for the first time. The husband ran into one of the elders from our chapel at the store and asked him a question about Advent wreaths. The elder looked aghast and replied, “I don’t know – we’re not liturgical!” So maybe we won’t advertise at chapel on Sunday that we’re using an Advent wreath this year. 😉

Here’s our wreath: