Observing a Quiet Advent

Today we hear from Sara Smith is a member of Holy Family’s Vestry and the Youth and Christian Education Commissions. Here, she offers a reflection on her family’s practice of marking the days of Advent with a simple reading of Scripture using an Advent calendar made with simple materials found around the home.  If you have a reflection about your family’s Advent practices and disciplines, let me know! We would love to hear your voice, too.

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I love the season of Advent. Its quiet, contemplative pace offers a comforting contrast to the frantic and exhausting American December. I want to share the quiet and the story of Advent with my children, but it can be a struggle to drown out the December frenzy.

As I prepared for Advent last year, I wanted to mark this liturgical season in our home with practices my children could participate in fully. One of the ways we did this was by making our own Advent calendar together. I found excellent inspiration from other moms on Pinterest! I chose from projects that would allow us to mainly use items we had around the house. I especially liked the layout of this one, and the use of liturgical colors on this one, so I combined the two in our version.

The day we worked on the calendar was lovely outside, so the kids and I put on old clothes and smocks, and sat on the ground as we worked together. I found the activity a fun way to talk with them about why we mark this liturgical season; they always love a project and are eager to understand how we practice our faith.

Advent Calendar S. SmithSupplies:

  • Acrylic paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper towel tubes, cut in half
  • Ribbon/lace
  • Small clothes pins
  • Large stiff board (wood, poster board with foam—like the back of an old science project board :)
  • Bible verses: 1 for each day
  • Other small activities/odds and ends for stuffing pockets
  • Stapler

Before we painted, I cut the paper towel tubes in half. The kids and I painted a couple of coats on each tube–purple for the first two and the fourth weeks of Advent, and rose, the color of joy for the third, just like the candles on our Advent wreath–and after the paint dried, I stapled them at the bottom and marked a number on each tube “pocket”, starting with Advent 1. I stapled lace fabric scraps to the board, leaving space between staples for the clothespins.

For daily readings, I printed verses relating to birth of Christ from Matthew and Luke, and the first few verses from John. I divided and cut them up into sections that would allow one verse for each day. We folded and placed them into the pockets, and I added small odds and ends to some of the days, like Advent-themed coloring pages.

We placed the board and the wreath made at church on our dining room buffet, along with other Advent resources from Holy Family. On many nights in Advent, my oldest would (try to) read from that day’s verse, with help from one of us. I loved hearing her tiny voice tell the story of the Incarnation, and watching my youngest listen intently. We took down each day’s pocket to help the kids visualize the number of days that remained in the season. Honestly, this didn’t happen every day, or with all family members present each time. Hopefully, though, it happened enough for my kids to feel the quiet, contemplative pace of Advent at home as we waited for the birth of our Lord.

 

The Work of Retelling the Story: Nativity Pageant

Every parish has their own way of telling the story of the birth of Christ. Some, like the parish in which I was raised, develop or purchase elaborate plays, spending hours rehearsing the story of the nativity or an adaptation of it, presenting it in a series of shows. Others create videos. Still others choose a dramatic reading of the story. The aim of all is to invite the congregation into the story of God’s most magnificent work, dwelling among us in the person of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the world’s true and only hope.

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As with many things at Holy Family, our method for retelling the story of the Nativity is one of a kind.  Every year the children of our parish gather on a weekend day sometime in the middle of November. They come in costumes determined by age or select costumes from among those we have on hand at the church. The youngest are barnyard animals. Children in the middle elementary years are angels, shepherds, and townspeople. Our fifth graders are assigned Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, soldiers, and the innkeeper. In a day full of logistical puzzles (naptimes, meals, children of all age groups running everywhere), the children act out scenes from the Nativity while several of our Parish’s skilled photographers take photos. Afterwards, several members of the parish select from among the photos, compiling them into a narrative slideshow of around fifteen minutes. This slideshow is timed manually to the reading of the Gospel of Luke woven with several hymns and carols at our Christmas Eve family service. The impact is pretty incredible and there’s always a wonderful buzz during the presentation.  The slideshow is not just a cool and cute way to tell the story.

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While this story is shared in the context of a Christmas Eve Liturgy, it is not the only worshipful moment in the process. Members of our church gather intentionally, work together on various parts of the story, laugh together, keep children company as they make cards for members of our parish who are sick or shut-in. The whole day is marked out to focus on the work at hand: telling the story of God together. The word “work” is no accident here. Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” All of our work is worship: whether we are taking photos, assembling costumes for a host of angels, acting out Gabriel’s proclamation to Mary, selecting photos, setting up projectors, timing slides, practicing the hymn music, hearing the words of the Gospel reading, or singing “Glory to God” together on Christmas Eve. All of our work is worship. All of our worship is work and it isn’t about us or the lovely children of our church.

Throughout the year, in the liturgy, in Church School, at VCS, we hear and share the story of God with one another. We respond in many and various ways to this story all year in worship, Christian education, outreach, in daily living and working together as community. The children who have been born and baptized in our congregation also participate in this. Indeed, there are always several adults who remark throughout the process of creating, practicing, and viewing the slideshow: “I remember when ______ was baptized” or “______ was the first baptism I witnessed here.” They have heard the wonderful stories of God and, once a year, they present this story–ancient and new–back to us. It is not only our children who receive the gift of God’s story on another’s lips, we do as well. In this way, the pageant photos are, as they should be, first and foremost about the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, the God we praise with our lives and work and the God who lives in the midst of the community that has been called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ to the ends of the earth.