Thanksgiving weekend, my family enthusiastically set out to find our Christmas tree. Minutes after unloading at the idyllic tree farm, a toddler initiated a crying spell that lasted the entire hour we strolled the fields and barn. Meanwhile, another child complained about the cold, a sibling threw a tantrum for more cookies, and another brother wept over a broken candy cane. We finally strapped the hewn pine to our van sighing with relief as we headed back home. After some much needed naps, we commenced with the tree trimming. I barely managed to open the box of fragile ornaments before eight hands darted forth unbidden. As I struggled to maintain control and composure, crying erupted that rivaled the volume of the Christmas music piping from the sound box. By the time the final ornament was clumsily hung, my nerves felt deep fried. The crying, the grabbing, the tissue paper shredding, none of it fit my idea of a merry, magical time: it had all gone very wrong. Or perhaps more accurately, I had gone very wrong. My expectations were wresting the joy right out of this most joyous occasion.
As mommas, we rightly desire to make the weeks leading up to Christmas (Advent) unforgettable and magical. We desire to impress upon our children the wonder and expectation bound up in Jesus’ first arrival and His future, second coming. Problematically (or so we think), there is no one right way to celebrate Advent; as in so many areas of life, we crave law when God offers grace. There are, however, three sure-fire ways to ruin Advent and exasperate our children in the process.
Don’t ruin Advent by clinging to unrealistic expectations. Young children simply cannot grasp the energy we put into planning events, activities and crafts. They just can’t, and that’s okay because we are not merry making to elicit their gratitude, we are celebrating in order to make much of Jesus. We are not selecting Scripture readings and corresponding crafts to garner the praise of #fellowmamasofInstagram but to scatter Gospel seeds in the hearts of our children. So when the kids paint the table instead of the wooden baby Jesus or when the kids tackle each other during an Advent reading we can trust God to water our small efforts with His living water. With each activity gone awry, we can laugh and rejoice that God’s favor is not earned but set upon us because of His Son. We can hold our expectations loosely knowing that God directs our days and delights to use our humble efforts to further His kingdom.
Don’t ruin Advent by overfilling your calendar. During Advent we need to carefully choose activities that glorify Christ and bless our families. Doing for the sake of doing (or because everyone else is doing) will only exhaust and exasperate our children. With no shortage of holiday activities to fill our schedules, we may carelessly crowd Jesus right out of His own celebration. We can over tired our kids so their ears don’t hear and their eyes don’t see who we are truly seeking to celebrate. We can bustle around so much that our families grow too exhausted to usher in Christmas with the real joy and obedience that renders Jesus ultimate. We certainly want to build anticipation around Christ’s birth but sometimes doing nothing is building anticipation. “Nothing” translates to waiting and waiting builds excitement, an excitement we can direct in worship of our Savior.
Don’t ruin Advent by making it all about your kids. Why do we plan all the crafts, activities and readings? Why do we labor over choosing the perfect gifts at the perfect prices? I think if we’re honest, it’s all too easy to make Christmas about our children instead of the Christ Child. This subtle shift puts incredible pressure on our children to perform which is a contradiction of what Christ’s coming represents. Christ came because our performance can never earn us salvation—we need a Rescuer to save us from ourselves. When we grow frustrated at our children’s ingratitude or childishness, we miss out on the Gospel opportunity to say, “Yes, see, this is why you need Jesus. This is why He came. This is what we are celebrating. That God came down and dwelt among us to save us from our sin. How glorious!” By all means, savor the joy and wonder children experience at Christmas, but don’t make that joy and wonder your chief aim. Let their wonder spur your wonder at an Almighty God humbling himself in the form of a child.
If we’re not careful, we can ruin Advent by eliminating grace and pushing law. We rule over the celebration with our expectations and calendars and idols. We want our children to get behind our purposes and ends. Sadly, we content ourselves with lesser when the Greater stands before us. Guard against this counterfeit Advent that promotes doing and buying and getting. Instead observe a true Advent of worshipful anticipation. Embrace an advent that cherishes the grace extended in God becoming man. Promote an Advent that marvels at a lavish Savior pursuing an ungrateful, broken humanity. Celebrate the Person of Advent: Immanuel our Prophet, Priest and King. Delight in His person, revel in His grace and extend His love to others. Above all else, make Christ your chief aim and greatest joy this Christmas.