Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Anticipation: Recovering the Wonder of Advent Part 2: Grace Not Guilt

Leave Off Behavior Focused Holidays!

You'd better watch out
You'd better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town. 

The elf on the shelf watches. Santa is making a list so you better behave. If you don't behave or if you're too selfish you might not get...The holidays are full of empty silly threats.

 I've started wondering if the constant use of these shift the heart's focus off the redeeming substitutionary work of Jesus. Why? Whether simply for fun or at times a useful alternative to counting  the child is subtly given the message good gifts are earned.

Should the message of Christmas be "be good so you can get something"? Is that why He came? I want to teach T & F Jesus came because they aren't good, he is. I want them to learn we do good from a changed heart, not from a bribe. Isn't it encouraging greed? Isn't "best behavior" then about self-centeredness rather than selflessness?

Such constant reminders- verbal and visual- may just give the season a human-centered tone rather than God-centered. Just think with me a moment. Think of the examples I opened this section with and contrast it to Jesus. We can do nothing to earn the ultimate gift.

Now I'm not saying it's bad to hang Christmas stockings. We do. But Santa is treated as a fairy tale on par with Hansel And Gretel. It was when i was a child too. Stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We left cookies out for Santa knowing full well he was really our parents. And it was fun! Grandma gave us books like Santa Are You For Real and VHS movies about Saint Nicholas alongside Cajun Night Before Christmas and a beautiful pop up Night Before Christmas. Santa, or rather Saint Nick, inspired us. When were children my sister and I used to fill each other's secretly in the spirit of the original Santa, Bishop Nicholas. It's not a bad thing in and of itself. Just playing the "he's watching" game, I believe,  builds the wrong sort of anticipation.

 If we want our kids to understand gifts aren't merited by our behavior then lay off the empty threats. When my child struggles at Christmas I need to do what I should year round. Discuss the glorious character of God and the nature of his grace. Bring them back to the gospel.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Anticipation: Recovering the Wonder of Advent- Part 1 Model It

"Put Christ in CHRISTMAS"

Every year as fall winds down and December begins I hear and see this statement. Generally what's meant is don't remove the references to Jesus from decorations, cards, and songs. Let me put my nativity up for display without criticism (as a side note these are actually debated in the Christian world in light of the implications of the second commandment). Throughout our holiday -BTW as holiday means holy day I have no qualms using the term- is the message we send our children really that Jesus is the center of Christmas? Or that people are? How can I as a parent change it?

And I mean I. I am parenting two precious little people T and F. How can I turn their focus first and foremost to Christ? How can I focus on Him so that His character and His deeds are wondered at, appreciated, and anticipated? How can I reference him to T & F so the Christmas story doesn't ring hollow? How do I not just tack Him on as an addendum? I have a few ideas to try. Over the coming days I'll be making a series of posts on building anticipation.

1- Model It!

This is where everything begins, isn't it? After all "Actions speak louder than words!" rings especially true in parenting. To get the "reason for the season" across to my kids I need to model expectation, anticipation, and wonder. Historically Christians have celebrated a season of four weeks leading up to the beginning of Christmas as not Christmas but Advent. In thinking, it was sort of similar to lent (just look up liturgical colors). It has historically been a time of longing and anticipation as you remembered the Old Testament promises and considered them in light of waiting for the second and final advent. It was a time of self examination. The dual undertone of advent - both first and second coming- makes it a time to remember both a threat (the consequences of the fall) and a promise (the earth groans but will be made right. Jesus made this happen and will complete His work. He came to redeem the world. He "banished sin and sadness" and will one day eradicate it in the new world).

Thus advent is a season of prayer. So pray! Even if it seems awkward. Remember that praying constantly doesn't mean you're under pressure to say the right words. Pray about sin. Pray about God's promises. Pray about the anticipation of a savior. Pray about longings and dreads of the second coming. Feel free to drop little prayers in addition to long focused ones constantly. If you need help here, pick up a good book like "If God Already Knows Why Pray" by Douglas Kelly,  "Pray With Your Eyes Open" by Richard Pratt, or "The Lord's Prayer" by Sproul.  For your kids grab a copy of "The Barber Who Wanted To Pray".

Meditate. Follow the advent calendar with your family. I'm not talking just Christmas countdown. I'm talking wrestling with the promises of God. In your own life this could be reading over the promises. It could be focusing on one of the themes from the advent wreath in your daily devotions.

Week 1 read passages on hope. Focus on why we need hope, the hope in God found in the Old Testament,  and halfway through the week shift to the hope found in the New. I mean beyond the gospels. Or read a book on Christian hope.

Week 2 is Preparation or Peace. Think about the God of peace and all its implications. Think over the Prince of Peace. Meditate on the how sin has left the world and your life in anything but peace and how OT promised the Emmanuel who'd bring peace between God and man. Consider how one day there will be forever peace in the new creation after the second coming. Read a book on peace.

Week 3 of advent is a bit like midway through lent. The focus is on joy. "He has turned mourning into gladness." Consider the joy of fearing God, the joy of Christ, the joy that filled OT followers as they hoped and longed for their savior, the joy of following our savior and anticipation of actually being with Him ourselves thanks to His redeeming work. Read a book on joy.

 Finally, week 4 the focus of advent is on love. Read passages in both testament on the love of God. Saturate yourself in realizing His character. Realizing the love he had to be Emmanuel, and your lack of love. Dwell on how a heart changed and redeems can love because he first loved. Or read a book on the deep, deep love of Jesus! Vast, undesired, boundless, free.

My favorite book for advent personally is On The Incarnation.

Read Part 2: Grace Not Moralism