A few weeks ago I posted about how we were planning to celebrate Advent as a family this year. Lest you believe we are the poster family for spiritual and holy family moments, I feel an update is in order. Advent is all about waiting, which for a toddler or preschooler is about the worst thing you can be expected to do.
Last year for Christmas we asked for a wreathe with four candles and calendar with little Velcro nativity characters that you pull out of pockets and stick to the felt manger at the top. A couple years ago we also bought a large beautiful Advent book that you read each day with doors that open on each page that tell the Christmas story.
It is day 21 of Advent and here is what celebrating actually looks like for us as a family of four with a three-year-old and 17-month-old…
After putting on PJ’s and brushing teeth, my daughter slides down the stairs backwards on her belly to join her brother who is dancing around the living room. She toddles to the tree and sits down with her tiny legs straight out in front of her. Our son “helps” us light the candles by holding onto our hands while we use our grill lighter. And by the time we are done lighting them, our daughter is up wandering around, draping dollar store necklaces around her neck and collecting random toys in the large Ziploc and old cooler bag she likes to haul around.
We eventually get our son to sit down on the floor with us to read the Advent book and he insists on holding the door flaps open with his foot, which we ask him not to do. He fills in a couple words as we read, shouting, “Immanuel!” and “Gabriel!” He opens the next door in the book, leaving a wet streak from where he had his hands in his mouth. He gets bored and my husband and I read the next few pages alone until he finally wanders back and insists on opening the door that we already read.
When she’s not trying to blow out the candles, my daughter shuffles in and out of the circle, backing up with all her gear to sit on our laps and occasionally tries to open doors as well. We finally finish reading and sing a “Away in a Manger” as a family, my son picking his nose and eating it all the way through.
After that, we bring over the wall-hanging Advent calendar where you are supposed to take out one king, star, shepherd or other nativity character each day and place it at the top. First of all, the kids are having none of this “one a day” business, so it is a free-for-all to see how many objects they can grab and run away with before mommy figures out what they are doing. And when I finally coerce them to stick their objects on the manger at the top, they inevitably fall off.
We sometimes pray at the end, but are mostly just ready to be done and for the kids to get in bed, so we let my son blow out candles and my daughter attempt to blow them out (mostly she just stares at them in a mesmerized stupor) and we herd them upstairs for books, songs, prayer and bed.
But if we “forget” to do Advent one night? Oh boy. This has already become a habit for the kids and though it is frustrating and we wonder if they are getting anything out of it, they seem to really want to do it each night.
I know it will get better in the future because our kids will not always be so little, but for now, it sometimes feels like we are just doing it to do it.
And yet if we’re honest, isn’t this what much of being a Jesus follower is really all about–simply showing up? We don’t always feel like pursuing God, but this doesn’t mean that we just give up all together.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to hang back until our hearts are perfectly in the right place before we pray, read the Bible or hang out with other believers. He just wants us to make any small effort we can to inch closer to Him. Sometimes we feel His presence, but many times we are just going through the motions, but this doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
Life continues to be sticky, but God is here in the stickiness.
He is in the chaos and the shrieking of my children as they fight over toys, in the repetition of meals, diaper changes and bedtime routines, and in the seemingly lame attempts at teaching our kids about God.
I wish that I could invite God into my immaculate “inn,” with shelves dusted and floors scrubbed clean, but right now all I can offer Him is this stable. But I still invite Him in. And He welcomes me to kneel at His side and worship Him right here in the dust.
And this is the God I love: The God who came to earth not as a king, but as a carpenter; not in a mansion, but in a smelly stable; and not to a perfect people, but to a bunch of distracted, snotty-nosed whiners who needed to physically touch Him, hear what He had to say and see what He had to do for them.
He didn’t come to people who were clean, worthy or even ready for Him, but He plopped down in the middle of messy life and allowed Himself to be known.
So this is Christmas. And this is Advent for us right now. It is not beautiful or filled with moments of enlightenment, but it is “God with us” in the stable of our living room, in the real stuff of life.
How does your ideal celebration of Advent compare to your actual celebration of Advent? I’d love to hear some of your experiences in the comments!
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