Advent is an epic season that launches the Western Church into a brand new year. Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Since Advent always comes just before Christmas, a lot of people think it’s about baby Jesus in Bethlehem. But Advent has a main focus of being about the return of King Jesus—it’s about his second coming as much as his first coming.
Advent is awesome because it is a time of reflection, where God’s people remember and celebrate God’s promise that everything wrong in this world will be made right through his Son. Advent forces us to think about the end of things even as we are starting a new beginning.
That’s enough about what Advent is. Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty…
How can parents pass on Advent to our children in a way that isn't stale and boring, and yet, remains ordinary and enduring?
Michael Horton gave us an advent book about 7 years ago as a Christmas gift (you can buy it here), and we still use it in our home to this day. It's simple, includes a short Bible reading, and has brief reflections leading from the start of Advent all the way to Epiphany (Jan 6th). That’s what the 12 Days of Christmas is really about, btw.
We normally just do the readings, but this year we really want our 6-year-old, 4-year-old, and almost 2-year-old to have a fun time with us during Advent, so I’ll share a few ideas that you could try with us this year.
Some Ideas to Try at home
An Advent Bible Reading Plan. You could camp out on one Advent passage for the whole week, or do daily verses leading up to Christmas. There are tons of free plans out there, so I’ll just share what we’re doing this year, corresponding with what I’m preaching through at church.
Week 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16, the theme is “Watch”
Week 2: Malachi 3:1-4, the theme is “Hope”
Week 3: Phil 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18, the theme is “Rejoice”
Week 4: Luke 1:39-55, the theme is "Wait”
Start with the small things, like chocolate. We buy an advent calendar from Trader Joe's for each of our kids. The dates are usually off each year, but just pair the chocolate on Dec 1st with the first day of Advent, and if you have any extras, eat them—Hot Tip: Advent starts on Sunday, December 2nd this year. Offering a piece of chocolate at the end of our “Advent time” after dinner helps keep the attention of young ones, and gives them something fun to look forward to each day.
Get 5 candles and set them up near your dining room table, or make an Advent Wreath with your kids. For each week of Advent, every Sunday evening have a kid light one candle until all four candles are lit. Then on Christmas Day, light the center candle and talk about the birth of Christ.
Sing a song every night. In our house, every time we try to play or sing a song it erupts into a dance party, but we’re going to try to keep it tame during Advent this year by selecting a few of our favorite Christmas songs. Here are the songs we’re trying to memorize this year.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Come All Ye Faithful
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Joy to the World
Singing a few traditional Advent/Christmas songs can be very meaningful. Repetition is the mother of learning, so try to repeat one song every night for an entire week. Then move on to the next song. It helps to stick with around 4 songs total, one for each week of Advent.
Reinforce the idea that giving is always better than receiving (Acts 20:35). The gospel message is this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). God so loved us that he gave (not withheld, not horded) his only begotten Son (Jn 3:16). It’s because of this message that God’s people actually become a more generous people.
With young kids though, it’s especially hard for them to view Advent (or Christmas) as anything other than what you’re about to get on Christmas morning—presents! So my wife and I think Advent is a great time to focus their energy on activities that allow them to give more than they receive and give them plenty of time to understand this season is about far more than getting.
Make/bake cookies with your kids, then take them to your neighbors. Have your kids hand the bags/plates of cookies to each neighbor.
This year, with some families in our church we packed shoeboxes full of items for children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.
Locally, through our church we participate with other churches in our region to provide Christmas gifts for families in need at a nearby elementary school. We’ll shop for and wrap up these gifts with our kids so they can start to participate in thinking about others, and giving someone else a gift.
Pick someone to pray for and have a child pray for someone else each night.
Some Advent Books Worth Your Time
God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp
Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent by Sinclair Ferguson
And One Non-Advent-Yet-Christmas Book Still Worth Your Time
Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller