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!

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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 15 – Saturday sanctuary

There was a time in my life when not having something sociable and exciting on a Saturday night would have made me sad.

Oh how times change. After being at a work conference in Katoomba today (great spending time with missionaries, but very tiring doing almost four hours of driving in a day), tonight was a different story.

Our night consisted of Thai at a very basic but bustling takeaway restaurant, and doing our weekly grocery shopping. No sadness, no shame. It was a brief but much-needed little sanctuary.

 

Advent Blog Day 13 – Gingerbread House Making Day!

photo 1

Tonight my friend Kaley hosted a ‘Gingerbread is awesome’ party, complete with gingerbread cocktails and tiny take-home gingerbread houses for your tea-cup! I’ve been surrounded by lovely ladies, and mountains of lollies, icing and delightfully scented gingerbread all evening. Bliss!

tea-cup gingerbread houses
tea-cup gingerbread houses

And this is my 2012 gingerbread house:

my gingerbread house!
my gingerbread house!

I don’t know how many gingerbread houses I’ve made over the years. My friends Kirsty and Mel helped instil this rather excellent and tasty tradition in me many years ago.

There’s something very satisfying about building a small house and then covering it in intricate lolly designs, while covering oneself in icing sugar, and eating all the ‘mistakes’ along the way. What’s not to like?!

But making the house and enjoying it on display at Christmas time is only half the tradition. This is the other half:

 

Advent Blog Day 3 – Clive the Christmas Tree

Yes we have a Christmas tree called Clive. He’s three Christmases old now.

We almost lost him after some serious western sun exposure at our old place in Petersham. Thankfully he responded well to our ‘Clive Alive’ campaign last November (aka water and a decent pot).

Now I wouldn’t necessarily say Clive has grown significantly since Christmas 2010, but he has certainly evolved…

Clive, December 2010
Clive, December 2010
Clive, December 2012
Clive, December 2012

Clive is a unique tree, or to use Adam’s words, he is ‘the ugly duckling’ of trees – still becoming something beautiful apparently. I wonder why his pine needles are confined to the ends of his branches now – he’s all spindly in the middle, and somewhat lost his Christmas tree shape.

There’s something special about having a real pine tree in your home at Christmas. We had real ones when I was really little, then one year Dad planted the tree in the garden and a plastic one took its place. I’ve rediscovered in recent years how much I love the pine tree smell, and plus, it feels good to simply return him to the balcony in January. I just hope he doesn’t droop under the weight of the decorations…