for release Friday December 2, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Keeping Advent in Families
Alex was six and Paul was just four when a fight almost broke out—not at home, which everyone takes in stride—but up front at church when a “children’s sermon” almost fell apart.
It was the season of Advent, and for many years at our church, in addition to lighting the Advent wreath each Sunday, the little kids get to put up Velcro-backed animals and characters on a special Advent banner depicting the nativity: the birth of baby Jesus and the visitation of the shepherds, angels and animals. Different characters are added each Sunday for the four Sundays of the Christian season of Advent.
On this day the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to a nine-year-old girl named Emma, to place on the banner. Then the college girl in charge of the children’s sermon gave the figure of Joseph to young Alex.
“I WANT ONE TO PUT UP!” wailed his younger brother, Paul.
“There aren’t any more figures to put up today,” the young college girl quickly tried to reason with him. But Paul, pouting, wasn’t in a reasoning mood.
Older brother quickly indicated to Paul that he could share the job of putting up the coveted Joseph figure. The adults all breathed audible sighs of relief. Paul couldn’t quite reach the place where the Joseph figure was to go, so Alex even tried to lift his little brother up, causing the banner to skew crazily on the wall.
Such are the sweet little disasters of Christmas, when everyone holds their breath and then somehow everything turns out okay and you know you’ve just witnessed something precious. Parents hold their breath wondering if their kids are going to royally embarrass them, and then relax when the kid, amazingly, makes them proud.
Then there was the Christmas we visited my parents’ huge church in Sarasota, Florida, and a kid nearly succeeded in burning the place down. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but hearts stopped when a child, who exasperatingly wasn’t able to hold still, kept playing too near the lighted advent wreath on a small pedestal table during their “children’s sermon.” Suddenly the table and wreath went crashing to the floor, fire flaring near a little girl’s hair. Everyone gasped. The pastor and a nearby adult made sure all the children were okay, and then the service resumed.
It is at home where the real wars break out over who gets to light the candle, or who gets to strike the match. As parents we worry about little hands wobbling too close to dried out greens and sister’s hair. We also worry, will this teach the kids to play with fire?
Why bother? Why keep Advent in families? Because it is one way to hold, even if just for a season, family worship or a quiet period of reading, singing and reflection in the home. It is a way to help keep kids’ minds off of Santa Claus and gift lists, and back on the original reason for Christmas. One reader of the stress tips available from the Another Way website wrote recently to complain about a tip encouraging early Christmas shopping to avoid stress. Why should we just resign ourselves to the commercialism that is tied to Christ’s birthday, he challenged. “The reason we give gifts at Christmas comes from God’s supreme gift of Jesus, given to the world,” he wrote.
Keeping Advent traditions is a way of preserving holy moments in your household. I was gratified to find that our traditions do mean something to the kids. One year when I hadn’t gotten around to making an advent wreath, the grown kids who came home from college said, “Don’t we have an advent wreath this year?” It was then that I realized that maybe all the arguments about who gets to light the wreath, the struggles to turn off the TV so we could have several minutes of quiet family worship, and the general busyness that too often impedes the Christmas season—the problems were worth it after all.
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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