A different approach to Advent

This year, my advent calendar involves no chocolate or treats or little doors to open. And there’s no daily blog like last year either.

Jesse’s branch

My mum was keen to do some Christmas craft on a recent family weekend away and my sister Heidi found this idea in this blog post. From this, we learned that some people mark Advent with a ‘Jesse’ tree, based on the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-3

P1070301So we decided to create our own Jesse’s Branch Advent calendar, each one with a different name that is used in the Bible for Jesus, ‘the shoot that will come up from the stump of Jesse’. We followed most of the names in the blog post above, writing the name on the front and the verse on the back, but also added a couple of our own – like ‘Man of Sorrows’ from Isaiah 53:3 and ‘Son of David’ from Matthew 1:1.

Advent tree

P1070307As I couldn’t find any twigs/branches that seemed appropriate, (no local bushland near my inner city home and no nice sticks in the shops), I decided that our new little Christmas tree, ‘Christoph’ would have to do for my Jesse’s branch. I quite like the novelty of adding a decoration to the tree every day! He started off a bit sparse but is now looking well-decorated. Perfect!

Precious names

And I love discovering what name I’m going to pull out of my little bowl each day to hang on the tree. Each one is a promise filled with hope and truth about the one we celebrate at Christmas. Today it was ‘King of Kings’ based on (among other verses) 1 Timothy 6:14-15. I wish I could say I looked up each passage each day and reflected on it…but that would be untrue. I did it for the first time today. Only a few more precious names to be revealed until it’s Christmas!

P1070306

Advent Blog Day 25 – Christmas Day

It’s technically Boxing Day now, but nevertheless, Merry Christmas! After three family gatherings, two church services and our fair share of driving across the city over the last two days, I’m exhausted (and there’s still another lunch tomorrow). So I thought I’d simply share some photos today.

We’ve never done brunch before – it was refreshing to share a different meal!

ready for Christmas Brunch

ready for Christmas Brunch

Opening presents with the family, and a selfie from my brother-in law.

family!

family!

We do a Kris Kringle with my family, and this year I got Dad – he asked for Bunnings vouchers for a proper composter – he looks pretty happy about effectively reusing kitchen waste!

Dad looking pleased with his gift!

Dad looking pleased with his gift!

My sister made this super cute Christmas card for me. Isn’t she creative!

Christmas card by Heidi

Christmas card by Heidi

My siblings may not be impressed, but after finding all of these, I couldn’t resist sharing one of our Santa photos – complete with matching Christmas dresses made by Mum.

memory lane – our 1991 Santa photo

memory lane – our 1991 Santa photo

It may not be his favourite time of year, but I still love sharing Christmas with him.

my love.

my love.

The tradition continues in 2012. Gingerbread house demolition pose:

Adam ready to smash our gingerbread house!

Adam ready to smash our gingerbread house!

Today I got to bring along my first Christmas dessert. The cooler weather worked in my favour and my choc-mint ice cream slice didn’t melt in between home and my Aunt and Uncle’s!

Christmas dessert

Christmas dessert

This is my final Advent Blog for Christmas 2012. What started as a crazy, seemingly impossible ‘shower’ idea, became a very challenging but rewarding journey through advent. Thanks for reading my blogs over the last 25 days.

There will be new posts and new challenging blogging opportunities in 2013. For now, I’m looking forward to doing some more reading and craft during my short break from work, and a little more sleep each night! God bless. Adios.

Advent Blog Day 24 – This is merely a shadow

It went so quickly.

Tonight, after putting in several practices, we had our first ever Christmas Eve service at our church. It went well, but quickly. Same with our Christmas brunch with my family today. Lovely, but over so fast, I found myself in the car on the way home trying to remember if I’d had any quality conversations with my family at all.

I enjoy looking forward to special occasions – birthdays, holidays, reunions with friends I’ve missed, and of course, Christmas. I always have and probably always will. And I don’t think I’m the only one. We’re all placing hope in something in the future, something just around the corner. A promotion. A holiday. A new car. A reduced mortgage. The problem is that all these things are either just that, things, or they are just days, or weeks at the most, and they pass, lose their newness, their worth.

With Christmas tomorrow I’m feeling a mix of emotions. I’m already experiencing a bit of disappointment that part of our Christmas celebrations are over. And after digging up all our old Santa photos  at Mum and Dad’s, I’ve been reflecting again on the excitement and tradition of the Christmas Eves of my childhood. Going to church, and afterwards drinking ice-cream spiders, eating Mum’s special Christmas slice afterwards and setting out food for Santa. It doesn’t feel special like it used to. Tonight we ate Thai on the couch while trying to resolve a misunderstanding.

It’s very tempting to get all nostalgic and sad now, but I must catch myself. The family lunches, the events, the memories of the past – they’re simply not what Christmas is about. And the hope that it evokes needs to be centred on something worthy.

Celebrating Christmas is merely a shadow of a greater celebration that is yet to come. It won’t pass quickly – it will never end. Jesus was born – that he might die and rise again to pay the price for our rebellion, giving us the life that is truly life, forever.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night when Christ was born; O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Jesus – the reason for Christmas

Jesus – the reason for Christmas

Advent Blog Day 23 – Why remember Advent anyway?

Today in church, our student minister asked us to reflect on what we’re hoping for this Christmas. A certain present? Quality time with friends and family?

Advent calendar

I have always loved counting down to Christmas Day on advent calendars. Last year I enjoyed having one of the cheap chocolate advent calendars from Aldi. Keeping a blog has been far healthier…except perhaps when it comes to sleep. I remember fondly some of the advent calendars we had when we were kids, and in particular, a felt one that I made myself. For each day there was a Christmas stocking with a unique decoration on it, and each one had a lolly inside and a little slip of paper with a Bible verse on it. I do remember wondering though why there were only 24 days on my calendar. Why wasn’t the most important day included? Perhaps because the wait is over come Christmas Day.

I learned today that the traditional season of advent doesn’t necessarily start on 1 December. It actually starts on the fourth Sunday before 25 December (anywhere between 27 Nov and 3 Dec).

Even if we have simplified the start-dates, there remains significant purpose in advent. According to trusty Wikipedia, for Christians:

The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Advent is all about Jesus. It’s about sharing in and remembering his coming to earth as a man, the first Christmas – God with us, as well as looking forward with true hope, to his return.

Bible Society #25days Advent Calendar

Bible Society #25days Advent Calendar

I’ve enjoyed receiving the #25words thoughts and videos as part of remembering Advent this year. Today’s email said:

Christmas is one of the world’s great stories. But it’s only the beginning. There’s the life Jesus lived, the teaching he brought, and the benefits of his death and resurrection. Still, there’s better yet to come. Especially to those who are broken, who suffer, as you’ll see:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4

As we eat our final chocolate(s) or write our final Advent Blogs, we can remember that Christmas is worth hoping for, but the best is still to come. What are you hoping for this Christmas?

 

 

Advent Blog Day 22 – on being a god-mother and sharing our home with loved ones

Today we spent time with our dear friends Justin and Susannah, and their little girls Bethany and Sophia. Justin and Adam have been friends since Year 7, and sometimes it feels like Suse and I have been friends equally as long.

We usually go to their place up in the very north of Sydney, and they always bless us with delicious and creative food. But today we had the joy of hosting them, their first time to our place in Alexandria since we moved. I valued sharing our home with our friends. Bethany had tucked herself into our bed within minutes of arriving, to ‘sleep’…she really made herself at home.

Jus, Bethany & Adam

Jus, Bethany & Adam

It was good to celebrate Christmas together too. Our friends intentionally dressed their girls in ‘Christmassy’ outfits, just to spread some Christmas cheer to Uncle Adam, the Christmas grinch. I think it may have worked! ->

I really value our friendship with Jus and Suse. They are such special friends that they came back from living in the UK to come to our wedding. They are a constant source of support, prayers, encouragement, and being a few steps ahead of us, general life wisdom.

As I have talked about before, we have the great honour of being Bethany’s godparents. There are many things I love about being a god-mother, but here are my favourites:

  • being part of Bethany’s life since she was born, and praying for her to become a follower of Jesus (at 2, she already talks about ‘Jesus books’, so she seems to be on track);

    Suse reading to Bethany

    Suse reading to Bethany

  • watching and learning from our friends as they raise their daughters;
  • being Aunty Nai;
  • randomly receiving text messages with cute photos and quotes – which always bring bursts of laughter and smiles into my working day;
  • spoiling her with gifts;
  • And last but not least, she is a really clever, vivacious and funny kid:

Suse: “What are Adam and Nai made of, Bethy?” B: “Precious!”

I’m so thankful for this joyous privilege, and I look forward to the future adventures of ‘god-mother-hood’ and friendship, in 2013 and beyond.

cuddles with Bethany

playing with Bethany

Advent Blog Day 21 – my beloved Christmas grinch exposed…

my grinchy and I!

my grinchy and I!

I just worked out that this will be Adam and my 10th Christmas together, and if you haven’t picked up on this fact from previous posts, my beloved husband is a Christmas grinch. Over the years we have chatted often about why he struggles with the ‘season of joy’. Now, finally, he shares his thoughts with our good friend Kaley, in this article over at Eternity News, complete with tips on how to cope with people of his ‘type’.

And it’s true, the bells on my homemade wreath jangle every time we open the door. It makes me happy to open it, and I also like to think I’m spreading a little Christmas cheer among our generally wreath-less neighbours.

So Adam, thank you for letting this Christmas junkie have her happy, noisy wreath, for playing at Christmas carols services every year for the last decade and a half, and for your constant commitment to truth and purpose.

Advent Blog Day 20 – Christmas buskers

The buskers were out in force today in the city. A family brass ensemble greeted me with Christmas carols as I went through the ticket turnstiles at Town Hall station this morning. And as I did my Christmas shopping at lunch time, a busker could be found on every other street corner or odd little pathway.

I realised something today – buskers make me smile – nearly all the time – for mostly the right reasons. Today’s exception was certainly the giggly pair of girls singing an off-key cover, into a single mic, to a backing track – that was more of a cringe.

But on the whole, there’s something encouraging about people sharing their creative ideas, their music, even their various renditions of Christmas carols with anyone and everyone. From the pair of primary aged boys on a trumpet and saxophone, to a classical guitarist, a beatboxer and the mini pop band playing as I walked back to the station tonight, they were all giving it a go. I’m thankful that people are allowed (within reason) to have this outlet for creative expression, even if they are asking for money. Music doesn’t pay well, so I think that’s probably fair enough.  buskers

And if I’m completely honest, as I try to be on here, I have a soft spot for buskers, because I have been one myself. Back in Year 8, I played Christmas carols with some friends in Chatswood Mall for a couple of days. It paid better than I expected, even in a group. A couple of people actually put in $50 dollar notes, so I remember being rather stoked to come away with $70 for playing my violin with my friends for the day.

I’m glad that Christmas seems to inspire generosity in many directions from all kinds of people, and space for people to share their creative gifts with each other. But I also really hope that people think anew about Jesus this Christmas, the reason we celebrate now, and the most generous gift that has ever been given.

Advent Blog Day 18 – Negotiating our differences

Why no Advent Blog yesterday? 

After an office clean-up had me away from my desk with my head in dusty boxes during the day, and a family Christmas BBQ in the suburbs, the husband and I thought we’d have a nice, long, intense discussion which started in the car and lasted until 12.30am this morning. Do other married couples have their most serious, difficult (and most growth-producing) discussions into the early hours of the morning? Or is that just us?

Last night we started talking about how we would spend our precious week off over Christmas and New Year.

The Planner vs The Spontaneous One

Spending time with people vs Space for being creative with music

His ideal week would be essentially blank. Mine would be mostly filled with seeing people and tasks I’ve been meaning to do for awhile. At times navigating these differences can be difficult. But I firmly believe that through them, our characters are being refined and our marriage is being strengthened. I’m more spontaneous than when we started dating and he is probably more planned.

Two helpful conclusions from last night…

  1. I want to refocus my passion for spending time with people on how I can intentionally bless them, not just fill up my schedule for my enjoyment. And as a bonus the purposefulness will help Adam to be willing to sacrifice some creative time in order to spend time with others sometimes.
  2. Remembering that people with creative minds can’t be creative on cue. It’s not helpful for me to plan spontaneous time. I started reading Living with a Creative Mind not long ago and it was truly gold for helping me understand Adam better. Creative people need lots of expectation-free space and time in order for their mind to wander and imagine and source new ideas.
us in Spain

us in Spain

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on resolving similar tensions and differences.

Advent Blog Day 17 – may grace increase

I was pleasantly surprised to hear our intercom sound this morning – I knew it could only be a Christmas present I had ordered for a family member on Friday. Talk about fast delivery. But when the delivery man cheerfully informed me that there were not one, but two packages for me, the surprise was of a different nature.

The identical parcels both contained the item I had ordered. And I flipped out. I immediately assumed that I’d clicked to place the items in the online shopping cart twice, and was feeling pretty guilty about wasting money.

But when I checked my emails, it was clear that I had only ordered one! It was their mistake, not mine.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but as I reflected on my reaction, I realised that when something around me goes wrong, I almost always have one of these responses:

  1. Assumption of error – I did something wrong, I am guilty, and I must profusely apologise and/or suffer as a result.
  2. Deflecting blame – No, I definitely didn’t do something wrong in this case – and so I want to make sure others know I am innocent.

My response seems to be either brutal or defensive, and I think this stems from pride and a fear about how others see me. It’s not pretty. Where’s grace? God has forgiven and continues to forgive me, so I want my default to cease being this assumption of error and blame, and start defaulting to grace – to others and myself.

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 3:20-21

Amen. May grace increase always.

walkontherocks