by Candice Watters
Tomorrow is the fourth Sunday before Christmas, signaling the start of Advent.
I have good, if fuzzy, memories of “doing Advent” as a kid. What sticks out in my mind is a centerpiece wreath my parents brought down from the attic with the Christmas decorations each December and the way that the candle lighting, incrementally each Sunday, was helpful for counting down the days till Santa’s arrival. I never understood the significance of the colors–why pink, purple, and white when all else is red and green? They seemed more suited to Easter than Christmas. I suspect I asked about it as often as they pulled that special evergreen wreath from it’s storage box. And I’m equally sure my Dad did his best to explain it to me. Though all these years later, I had to look up the meaning of the candles (violet symbolizes penitence, pink symbolizes joy, and white symbolizes the purity of Christ).
Over time, they impressed on me the significance of marking the weeks leading up to Christ’s birth with building expectation. I knew my parents were intent on teaching us that when it came to Christmas, as much as we enjoyed the decorating, cutout cookies, presents and parties, what mattered most was the birth of Jesus.
Wanting to give our kids more to go on than memories of seemingly-out-of-season candle colors, we sought to celebrate Advent intentionally early on. The first few years, we read through a list of Bible readings–Old Testament prophecies and New Testament fulfillments–organized for Advent. Seven years ago we branched out to family Advent books that include Scripture as well as a story or devotional.
At the recommendation of a friend and mom of three, we bought Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent, by Arnold Ytreeide. In this fictional account set in the days and months before Christ’s birth, young Jotham disobeys his father and is consequently separated from his sheep-herding family. The book is designed to be read each night from the start of Advent through Christmas day. Following each installment of Jotham’s exciting adventure is a short discussion of how his story parallels the nation of Israel, and ultimately, our own. Included are portions of Scripture. This was a fun book for our family. The story was so exciting–each chapter ending with a cliff-hanger–that most nights we all begged Steve to “keep reading!” That momentum drew us back each night (he ignored our pleas and stayed to the schedule), eager to see what would happen to Jotham, and in the process, we felt a taste of the longing and expectation that must have characterized the Jews waiting for Messiah, and should characterize us.
After Jotham’s Journey came Bartholomew’s Passage. The second of three books in Ytreeide’s Advent series follows the same format as the first, picking up the storyline of Bartholomew, who made a brief appearance in book one. It was harder to find this copy since it was out of print by the time we discovered the series. Book three, Tabitha’s Travels, was nowhere to be found. Gladly, all three have been brought back into print.
Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey, and foreword by Andrew Peterson came at just the time our kids were discovering Andrew Peterson’s music and books. They were all eager to read as a family, a biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth, beginning at the beginning, and going all the way to today. You can read the first chapter for free here.
Not sure what to do next, Steve asked around to see if any of the dads he knew had some ideas. Why Christmas? by Barbara Reaoch came recommended by Don Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at the Southern Batist Theological Seminary and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He endorsed the book for being “biblically-sound, theologically-rich, Christ-centered.” All that in short readings with bright, colorful illustrations well-suited to young children and a suggested Christmas carol for singing together as a family.
This year, we look forward to reading John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent. It’s available free on the Desiring God website, as well as in paperback for a low price. Piper explains the purpose of the book: “Our prayer is that this ebook would help you keep Jesus as the center and greatest treasure of your Advent season. The candles and candies have their place, but we want to make sure that in all the Christmas rush and hubbub, we adore Jesus above all.”
It’s not about the candles after all. I’m thankful for all these rich resources to help us teach our children what matters most in these weeks leading up to Christmas.