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Posts tagged ‘Advent’

Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises.


Justin Holcomb

Advent IV: God Keeps His PromisesIntroduction              On the fourth Sunday of Advent (Advent IV), we celebrate God’s faithfulness in sending Jesus, and we remember that faithfulness as we look forward to Christ’s second coming.

The Scripture and Theology of the Fourth Week of Advent

Scripture readings for Advent IV focus on the coming of the Messiah who fulfills God’s covenant with David, bringing salvation for all people and the eternal reign of God on earth.

Old Testament Readings        

Old Testament passages for the final week of Advent reflect on prophecies, which are fulfilled by Jesus’ birth. Isaiah 7:10 recounts the story of King Ahaz, king of Judah at a time when Judah was facing a foreign invasion. Ahaz hoped for help from the king of Assyria. The prophet Isaiah, however, downplays human-oriented deliverance and instead points to God’s divine intervention to bring about his kingdom—an intervention that would come through a baby born in Bethlehem. Isaiah says, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

We see something similar happen in 2 Samuel 7:1 when God corrects King David’s human plans by revealing his divine plan. When David starts to make plans to build a temple for God to dwell in, God counters that he himself will build his own “house” through the dynasty of David, ultimately dwelling among his people as God with us—Immanuel—in Jesus Christ. God promises that he will make for David a great name, give his people eternal rest from enemies, and give him an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 7:9); these promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

Micah 5:4 looks forward to how God will rule over his people through Jesus: “He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord…And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”

Readings from the Psalms

In Psalms 80:1 we see the psalmist praying for deliverance and restoration. Because of God’s past deliverance, the psalmist calls for God once again to let his face shine upon his people so that they can be saved. The Gospel of John says that those who have seen the face of Jesus Christ have seen the face of God (John 14:9). In Jesus Christ, God fulfills his promise of salvation by making his face shine upon his people.

Psalms 89:1Psalms 89:19 shows God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. God said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations’” (Psalms 89:3). God said he would be faithful to David, and through Jesus, God keeps his promise.

New Testament Readings       

New Testament readings for Advent IV continue to reflect on God’s faithfulness to his promises. The gospel was “promised beforehand through [God’s] prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2). The good news of salvation is that God has been faithful to his promise to David in sending Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

Hebrews 10:5 reminds us that Christ’s coming obliterates the old system of sacrifice, through the sacrifice Jesus made for us, once for all. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:9-10). Jesus’ birth points us forward to the cross. As Karl Barth put it, “Except we see the Cross at Golgotha we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem.”

Gospel Readings

Gospel readings for Advent IV tell the story of the angel coming to Mary and Joseph to announce Christ’s birth. In Matthew 1:18 the angel Gabriel tells Joseph that Mary “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This fulfilled what the Lord had promised to the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22, from Isaiah 7:14).

Luke 1:26 tells another more of the story and connects Jesus’ birth to the lineage of David. The angel tells Mary that her son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).

The Symbolic Spirituality of the Fourth Week of Advent

The Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath both bring to conclusion the theme of repentance throughout the Advent season. The Jesse Tree tells the story of God bringing his people out of exile through Jesus Christ, and the Advent Wreath expresses the peace that we experience through God’s redemption.

The Jesse Tree            

The Jesse Tree in Advent III felt somber; Israel was in exile, and there was little hope in sight. But the story now takes a positive turn with the arrival of the one who paves the way for Christ. God’s promise has arrived, and by telling the stories of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57Luke 3:1Luke 7:18), Mary (Luke 1:26), Elizabeth (Luke 1:39), Zechariah (Luke 1:57), Joseph (Matthew 1:19), the Magi (Matthew 2:1), Jesus (Luke 2:1), and Christ (John 1:1), the Jesse Tree becomes fully lit. The story that God began with Adam reaches the top of the tree with the arrival of the Second Adam, Jesus, who reverses the curse of sin by crushing the head of the serpent on the cross.

The Advent Wreath

On the last Sunday of Advent, a fourth candle on the Advent Wreath is lit. Traditionally, this purple candle has been called the “Angel Candle” and represents the peace that Christ’s birth brings to earth. All four of the candles around the Advent Wreath are now burning, each at a different height. Only one candle remains: the center, white Christ Candle that is lit on Christmas Eve, representing the pure Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world.

Conclusion

The Advent season is a journey through the biblical story that shows us how “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]” (2 Corinthians 2:20). Advent points us to Jesus, just like all Scripture. At his first coming, which we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus showed us his humility, his love for us, and his heart of grace toward sinners and sufferers. At his second coming, which we look forward to in Advent, he will complete what he started at his birth, bringing a final end to suffering, sin, and death, restoring his creation, and setting up a new kingdom of righteousness and peace. God keeps his promises.

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.

The arrival…


By Pastor Bobby Schuller

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
-Romans 12:12

As we think about the characters from the Christmas story, think about how dark and difficult the Christmas story really is. The magi traveled years from the east on dangerous roads, following a star to find the new Messiah. Shepherds out in the hills, shivering, cold, traveled into town to see the new Messiah. And, especially Joseph and his beloved Mary, a 15-yr-old Jewish Middle Eastern girl having her first baby, and it’s cold. Nobody will give her shelter because all the inns are filled. So, she is allowed, finally, to go literally into a barn, give birth, and put her baby in a feeding trough. Now, that’s tough.

When we, as Christians, celebrate the advent season leading up to Christmas, the word “advent” means “the arrival” or “the coming of the Messiah,” and it’s really the coming of a promise. So the season of advent, is a season for all of us who are journeying through the dark night of the soul, going through difficult times in life. Advent is the season of prayer and waiting that the Christ child would be born in the midst of our darkness. So, many of us are like pilgrims, walking a dangerous, dark road to find Jesus.

Let’s keep Christ before our minds as we travel on this road of life. That will set things right. We keep Christ before our minds so that we can have hope.

Prayer: Lord, as we wait the arrival of Christmas, celebrating the arrival of our Savior, may we keep Christ before our minds so that our hope is renewed every day. Amen.

Reflection: How does keeping your mind on Christ give you hope?

Advent III: Rejoice! God Is With Us.


Advent III: Rejoice! God Is With Us

Introduction

The third Sunday in Advent (Advent III) shifts from a tone of expectation of Christ’s coming to one of rejoicing at the arrival of God’s kingdom with the coming of Jesus.

The Scripture and Theology of the Third Week of Advent

Scripture readings for Advent III reflect on the salvation and restoration Jesus brings, which is cause for rejoicing and perseverance.

Old Testament Readings        

Old Testament readings for Advent III highlight the universal restoration Jesus accomplishes. InIsaiah 35:1, the prophet looks forward to the future promised for the people of God—a future inaugurated at the first coming of Christ and consummated at his second coming. When Jesus returns, the effects of sin’s curse will be removed: the wildernesses and dry land will blossom, and streams will come forth from the desert. The miracles he did point to his kingdom: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

Isaiah 61:1Isaiah 61:8 shows God’s concern for those on the fringes of society—those who have no voice of their own and cannot speak for themselves. The Messiah has been anointed by God to bring good news to the poor and liberty to the captives, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of God’s vengeance. God is one who loves justice and mercy, and in his coming kingdom those who suffer from injustice will be restored. The coming Christ “will save the lame and gather the outcast, and [he] will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zephaniah 3:19).

Readings from the Psalms

The Psalms for Advent III carry on the theme of the justice and mercy brought about by God’s coming kingdom. Psalms 146:4 says that the one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” is blessed. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up the downcast, keeps watch over sojourners, and upholds widows and orphans (146:8-9). When God brings restoration to his people, there will be laughter and joy, and tears shall be turned into shouts of joy (Psalms 126:5).

New Testament Readings       

New Testament readings in the third week of Advent show how believers are motivated to wait patiently for Jesus’ return. As 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, patience should be accompanied by rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving as well as abstaining from evil. God is faithful, and he is the one who will sanctify us, so Christians can be sure that we will be kept blameless at Christ’s second coming. Only God’s power can do this, and “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). Philippians 4:4 continues the theme of rejoicing, because God’s peace for those in Christ will guard our hearts and minds.

Gospel Readings

Gospel readings for Advent III return to John the Baptist, but in a way that points from him to Jesus. In Matthew 11:2, John hears rumors about what Jesus was doing and asks him (through his disciples) “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds to John’s followers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4-5). Jesus’ answer is incredibly fitting—“look at what I’m doing,” he says. “You know that the Messiah will bring healing to those in need, and that’s exactly what I bring.”

John the Baptist came as a witness, “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:8). John came to bear witness about the light, who is Jesus. John claimed, “I am the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23).

John preached the gospel to the people—the good news of God’s coming kingdom of justice and peace (Luke 3:18).

The Symbolic Spirituality of the Third Week of Advent

The Jesse Tree

During the third week of Advent, the Jesse Tree recounts the story of how God’s people often failed, revealing their deep need for a Savior. The branches on the tree this week are crooked and deathly-looking, with few leaves on them. Through the stories of David (1 Samuel 16:12 Samuel 5:12 Samuel 7:1), Elijah (1 Kings 17:11 Kings 18:17), Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1), Isaiah (Isaiah 1:10Isaiah 6:1Isaiah 8:11), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:4Jeremiah 7:1Jeremiah 8:22), Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:1Habakkuk 3:16), and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:1Nehemiah 6:15Nehemiah 13:10), the Jesse Tree narrates Israel’s fall into exile and her waiting for the Messiah.

The Advent Wreath     

A third candle—a pink one—is lit on the Advent Wreath for Advent III. This candle, often called the Shepherd’s Candle or the Joy Candle, represents joy, such as the joy the shepherds experienced when the angel told them that Christ was to be born. The Advent season is now half over, and Jesus’ coming—both his first coming, liturgically, and his second coming, historically—is nearer now than it was two weeks ago.

Conclusion

More than any other week during the Advent season, Advent III represents a shift in attitude. One moves from hope, repentance, and fear of the coming Judge to rejoicing at the coming of salvation and the kingdom of God as Jesus makes all things new.

These Advent rhythms represent shifts that we often experience in our Christian lives. Some days we feel like the injustices in this world are more than we can handle, some days we anguish over our sin, and others we long for the day when God will finally defeat the last great enemy, death. Advent III helps us move out of these moods and into rejoicing, because God has come to save us and to be with us, and he will come again.

Justin Holcomb

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.

Advent: More Is Yet to Come.


Melissa Kruger, Author, Women’s Ministry Director

Advent: More Is Yet to ComePeeking out from behind the orange pumpkins and overflowing cornucopias, you may have already begun to spot cinnamon red candles, thick green garlands and an array of ornaments.  TV commercials present snow-filled scenes, roaring fires and busy elves making toys in Santa’s workshop. The sights and sounds of the season are upon us.  They quietly whisper:  Christmas is coming.

In just a few days, my husband will climb into the attic and one by one boxes will be brought down and opened.   Each bin contains memories of our lifetime together as a family.  As the tree is trimmed, my children eagerly recall family vacations, preschool creations, and favorite childhood photos.  Christmas music fills the air, hot chocolate is served and new memories are added to the old.

As my children look back, they are also looking forward.  In the midst of remembering, they also wonder, “What special gifts are coming? Will I get that hoped for something under the tree?”  Old memories of past delights can be recalled, while future joys are cloaked, wrapped and waiting for that special day.   Looking back and looking forward – this is exactly what the season of Advent is all about.

The word Advent literally means “the coming or arrival”.  As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed.  Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby.  His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold.  The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.

As believers, we look back, but we also look forward.  Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree.  More is yet to come.  As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world.  We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new.  More is yet to come.

In the midst of a busy season, how do we keep the true meaning of Advent alive and flourishing within our homes?  In the flurry of activities (from baking, to shopping, to celebrating with friends), how do we savor the Savior, reflect upon His coming, and wait with abiding hopefulness for His return?

For our family, each night in December, as we gather around the dinner table, we pull out ornaments from a special box.  Years ago, a friend of mine organized a Jesse Tree party.  The Advent Jesse Tree recounts the story of redemption using twenty-five ornaments as symbols to represent different Bible stories, all pointing to the coming Messiah.

My friend sent out a list of all of the different Jesse Tree ornaments.  Every woman chose one and made twenty-five of the same ornament (it required 25 women, each making one ornament).  During the party, each participant placed one of her ornaments in everyone else’s box.  At the end of the night, we all went home with a complete, homemade Advent Jesse Tree set.  For me, each of these ornaments is a special reminder – both of the story it represents, and the friend who fashioned it for me.

Starting on December 1st, my children excitedly pull out a miniature tree and the box that contains our Jesse Tree ornaments.  To guide our readings, we use an advent devotional entitled, “The Advent Jesse Tree” by Dean Lambert Smith.  It provides a devotional and Bible passages that correspond with the ornament for the day.  A new Jesse Tree devotional option this year is Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift.” She also provides printable ornaments on her website for an easy way to bring this tradition home (especially for non-crafty moms like myself!)

After reading the devotion for the day, my children eagerly take turns placing new ornaments on the tree.  Day after day, we remember the story of waiting, watching and hoping for the Messiah to come.  As we reflect upon the stories, our family learns the beauty of the Biblical narrative – how in the midst of many small stories, there is one larger story that all the others point to.   By December 25th, the tree that was once barren is bursting with fullness.

We began using the Jesse Tree when our oldest daughter was three years old.  She is now thirteen, her brother is ten and our youngest is seven.  For ten years we have pondered these stories, enjoyed time together as a family and been blessed to reflect upon the coming of Jesus.  These Advent meditations allow our family to look back and rejoice, “Christ has come!” They also encourage us to look forward in joyful expectation, “Christ will come again!”
Melissa Kruger serves as Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World (Christian Focus, 2012). Her husband Mike is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary, and they have three children. You can follow her on Twitter @MelissaBKruger.

Advent: Waiting for Jesus.


Worship Advent

What are you doing to prepare your congregation for Advent? (Lightstock)

There is a time in the liturgical Christian calendar called “ordinary time”—it is that time between Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent and the few short weeks between New Year‘s and Ash Wednesday. The rest of the calendar is peppered with events. Each of these events is surrounded with tradition.

Tradition is important. We set up traditions to help us remember, to mark the passage of time and to tighten our sense of community. Like any event with three purposes, it is easy to lose focus.

Advent is about anticipation. What are you doing to help the people in your congregation anticipate Jesus this Christmas season?

How do you anticipate Christ’s arrival? Merriam Webster’s dictionary tells us that to anticipate is to “expect or look ahead to [something] with pleasure.”

There are times when life just seems hard. It can be in those seasons where we see lots of death or in the stretching seasons, when opposition comes from every direction. In those times, we are tempted to pull into ourselves and search for support from family and community. We might even look to the past, remembering “wins,” hoping that one will come again soon.

The Christmas season’s most powerful lesson is the anticipation of Christ (Advent). The people of Israel heard nothing from the prophets for roughly 400 years. Their faith seemed like a ritual, and God far away. Yet many continued to faithfully attend to worship and anticipate the Messiah.

Can you imagine a desire so consuming that you create the provision in your mind? The Israelites anticipated a military Messiah—instant freedom from their captors and validation. When Jesus showed up, even those who believed in Him waited for Him to reveal His military agenda.

When you are buried by bills, pressure and bad attitudes, how do you anticipate Christ’s arrival?

1. Practice thankfulness. Thankfulness is the foundation for true joy. Thankfulness is not gritting your teeth and choosing thankfulness. Instead, thankfulness looks for God’s presence and celebrates it.

2. Expect the unexpected. Jesus didn’t arrive as a victor but as a babe. He didn’t heal Lazarus but came when all hope was lost with a much greater prize in mind. He let the disciples row all night and then terrified them, walking on the water like a ghost.

3. Look for the signs. The wise men knew to look for Christ’s arrival. They saw His arrival indirectly, as the stars announced it. When Christ shows up, we can see the results often before we sense His presence.

4. Worship. The only way to be where you need to be when you need to be there is to keep the lines of communication with God open. We open ourselves to hear His voice best when we worship.

How will your practice of Advent help you anticipate Christ during the difficult times in the year ahead?.

Written by Kim Martinez

Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach and can be found online at deepimprints.com. She writes a regular column for ministrytodaymag.com.

 

Advent: More Is Yet to Come.


Advent: More Is Yet to Come

  • Peeking out from behind the orange pumpkins and overflowing cornucopias, you may have already begun to spot cinnamon red candles, thick green garlands and an array of ornaments.  TV commercials present snow-filled scenes, roaring fires and busy elves making toys in Santa’s workshop. The sights and sounds of the season are upon us.  They quietly whisper:  Christmas is coming.

In just a few days, my husband will climb into the attic and one by one boxes will be brought down and opened.   Each bin contains memories of our lifetime together as a family.  As the tree is trimmed, my children eagerly recall family vacations, preschool creations, and favorite childhood photos.  Christmas music fills the air, hot chocolate is served and new memories are added to the old.

As my children look back, they are also looking forward.  In the midst of remembering, they also wonder, “What special gifts are coming? Will I get that hoped for something under the tree?”  Old memories of past delights can be recalled, while future joys are cloaked, wrapped and waiting for that special day.   Looking back and looking forward – this is exactly what the season of Advent is all about.

The word Advent literally means “the coming or arrival”.  As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed.  Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby.  His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold.  The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.

As believers, we look back, but we also look forward.  Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree.  More is yet to come.  As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world.  We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new.  More is yet to come.

In the midst of a busy season, how do we keep the true meaning of Advent alive and flourishing within our homes?  In the flurry of activities (from baking, to shopping, to celebrating with friends), how do we savor the Savior, reflect upon His coming, and wait with abiding hopefulness for His return?

For our family, each night in December, as we gather around the dinner table, we pull out ornaments from a special box.  Years ago, a friend of mine organized a Jesse Tree party.  The Advent Jesse Tree recounts the story of redemption using twenty-five ornaments as symbols to represent different Bible stories, all pointing to the coming Messiah.

My friend sent out a list of all of the different Jesse Tree ornaments.  Every woman chose one and made twenty-five of the same ornament (it required 25 women, each making one ornament).  During the party, each participant placed one of her ornaments in everyone else’s box.  At the end of the night, we all went home with a complete, homemade Advent Jesse Tree set.  For me, each of these ornaments is a special reminder – both of the story it represents, and the friend who fashioned it for me.

Starting on December 1st, my children excitedly pull out a miniature tree and the box that contains our Jesse Tree ornaments.  To guide our readings, we use an advent devotional entitled, “The Advent Jesse Tree” by Dean Lambert Smith.  It provides a devotional and Bible passages that correspond with the ornament for the day.  A new Jesse Tree devotional option this year is Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift.” She also provides printable ornaments on her website for an easy way to bring this tradition home (especially for non-crafty moms like myself!)

After reading the devotion for the day, my children eagerly take turns placing new ornaments on the tree.  Day after day, we remember the story of waiting, watching and hoping for the Messiah to come.  As we reflect upon the stories, our family learns the beauty of the Biblical narrative – how in the midst of many small stories, there is one larger story that all the others point to.   By December 25th, the tree that was once barren is bursting with fullness.

We began using the Jesse Tree when our oldest daughter was three years old.  She is now thirteen, her brother is ten and our youngest is seven.  For ten years we have pondered these stories, enjoyed time together as a family and been blessed to reflect upon the coming of Jesus.  These Advent meditations allow our family to look back and rejoice, “Christ has come!” They also encourage us to look forward in joyful expectation, “Christ will come again!”

Melissa Kruger, Author, Women’s Ministry Director

Melissa Kruger serves as Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World (Christian Focus, 2012). Her husband Mike is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary, and they have three children. You can follow her on Twitter @MelissaBKruger.

Advent: More Is Yet to Come.


Advent: More Is Yet to Come

Peeking out from behind the orange pumpkins and overflowing cornucopias, you may have already begun to spot cinnamon red candles, thick green garlands and an array of ornaments.  TV commercials present snow-filled scenes, roaring fires and busy elves making toys in Santa’s workshop. The sights and sounds of the season are upon us.  They quietly whisper:  Christmas is coming.

In just a few days, my husband will climb into the attic and one by one boxes will be brought down and opened.   Each bin contains memories of our lifetime together as a family.  As the tree is trimmed, my children eagerly recall family vacations, preschool creations, and favorite childhood photos.  Christmas music fills the air, hot chocolate is served and new memories are added to the old.

As my children look back, they are also looking forward.  In the midst of remembering, they also wonder, “What special gifts are coming? Will I get that hoped for something under the tree?”  Old memories of past delights can be recalled, while future joys are cloaked, wrapped and waiting for that special day.   Looking back and looking forward – this is exactly what the season of Advent is all about.

The word Advent literally means “the coming or arrival”.  As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed.  Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby.  His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold.  The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.

As believers, we look back, but we also look forward.  Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree.  More is yet to come.  As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world.  We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new.  More is yet to come.

In the midst of a busy season, how do we keep the true meaning of Advent alive and flourishing within our homes?  In the flurry of activities (from baking, to shopping, to celebrating with friends), how do we savor the Savior, reflect upon His coming, and wait with abiding hopefulness for His return?

For our family, each night in December, as we gather around the dinner table, we pull out ornaments from a special box.  Years ago, a friend of mine organized a Jesse Tree party.  The Advent Jesse Tree recounts the story of redemption using twenty-five ornaments as symbols to represent different Bible stories, all pointing to the coming Messiah.

My friend sent out a list of all of the different Jesse Tree ornaments.  Every woman chose one and made twenty-five of the same ornament (it required 25 women, each making one ornament).  During the party, each participant placed one of her ornaments in everyone else’s box.  At the end of the night, we all went home with a complete, homemade Advent Jesse Tree set.  For me, each of these ornaments is a special reminder – both of the story it represents, and the friend who fashioned it for me.

Starting on December 1st, my children excitedly pull out a miniature tree and the box that contains our Jesse Tree ornaments.  To guide our readings, we use an advent devotional entitled, “The Advent Jesse Tree” by Dean Lambert Smith.  It provides a devotional and Bible passages that correspond with the ornament for the day.  A new Jesse Tree devotional option this year is Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift.” She also provides printable ornaments on her website for an easy way to bring this tradition home (especially for non-crafty moms like myself!)

After reading the devotion for the day, my children eagerly take turns placing new ornaments on the tree.  Day after day, we remember the story of waiting, watching and hoping for the Messiah to come.  As we reflect upon the stories, our family learns the beauty of the Biblical narrative – how in the midst of many small stories, there is one larger story that all the others point to.   By December 25th, the tree that was once barren is bursting with fullness.

We began using the Jesse Tree when our oldest daughter was three years old.  She is now thirteen, her brother is ten and our youngest is seven.  For ten years we have pondered these stories, enjoyed time together as a family and been blessed to reflect upon the coming of Jesus.  These Advent meditations allow our family to look back and rejoice, “Christ has come!” They also encourage us to look forward in joyful expectation, “Christ will come again!”

Melissa Kruger, Author, Women’s Ministry Director

Melissa Kruger serves as Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World (Christian Focus, 2012). Her husband Mike is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary, and they have three children. You can follow her on Twitter @MelissaBKruger.

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