Advent Devotion: The Pre-Christmas Present

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CHICAGO, IL (December 10, 2003)  – Covenant Communications is publishing  several Advent articles taken from various church newsletters and email  updates. This one, entitled “The Pre-Christmas Present” comes from  Pamela Gibbs of Creekside Covenant Church, Redmond, Washington.

“I am the light of the world” John said of Jesus (John 8:12).

There is a prison building, now a tourist attraction in San Francisco,  called Alcatraz. I remember one day when, as a teenager, my family and I  toured the prison.

After walking down aisles of bars and concrete floors, the tour guides  gave us a glimpse of what it was like to be in solitary confinement.  They herded us into a single cell while they spoke. Standing shoulder to  shoulder, the main tour guide stepped out of the room for a moment and  closed the door until all the light was gone. We all waited,  expectantly, quietly; astonished by the absence of light for the few  minutes it took before they opened the door again. Though I know it was  just a few minutes, it seemed much longer.

When the door finally opened, the light poured in, and people smiled and  actually looked at each other for the first time during the tour.  Laughing at their nervousness, they were all relieved to be in the light  again. It was amazing how solitary that confinement was, even with other  people around. The light made all the difference in the world.

If you want to see what Jesus means in your life, just imagine a time  without him. Have you ever had that time in your life? A time before  Jesus existed for you? A time before you knew about the light of the  world? Was it as dark as the cell I just described even though there  were other people around? Imagine the time before Jesus was born. Where  was the hope for the world? Where was the joy? Where was the focus on  love and forgiveness? There really was a time before Jesus. A time when  the world was waiting, expecting, and hoping.

We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas. But, the four weeks or Sundays  before Christmas are called Advent (The term comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming or arrival. It is the beginning of  the Christian calendar and a recognition of the time before Jesus was  born. Advent is way for us to honor God for sending his son to a world  that didn’t deserve him. And it is a time when we acknowledge our  diligent and obedient waiting of his second coming.

Each year, retailers try to make the holiday season a little longer.  Advent gives us all a way to keep Jesus Christ at the center of our  lives. It gives us a chance to begin or continue traditions that may be  remembered way past the opening of presents.

Advent celebrations began about the fifth century and originally  included solemn reflection, penitence, and fasting. Since that time,  there have been many ways to celebrate Advent. Traditions usually  include doing something every night or every week before Christmas. Some  celebrations incorporate prayers, scripture readings, or songs. Many  traditions include symbols that remind us of different parts of the  Christmas story or of the time when the world was waiting for Jesus.  Here are a few of the traditions I found. If you don’t have an Advent  tradition, perhaps you could use one of these:

  • A Wreath: Usually made of evergreens, the Advent wreath can be used  alone but is often the setting for Advent candles and may signify the  eternal and endless nature of God. Others believe it is a symbol of how Jesus came so that we could now have eternal life. Berries and pinecones  can be added and some give significance to those as well.
  • Candles: Many like to think of advent candles as signifying the  gradual increase of light. There are usually four candles, one for each  Sunday before Christmas. Each week you light a candle and recite a  scripture or say a prayer. Then a new candle is added each week for the  four week period. The candles can be different colors (usually three of  purple and one of rose, or all four white) and stand for different  things. Some think of the candles as hope, peace, love, and joy. For  others they symbolize the Messiah, the star, the prophecies, and the  lamb… Sometimes a fifth candle is added in the middle, a large white  Christ candle to be lit on Christmas.
  • Calendars and Chains: These can be paper, calendars or paper chains;  electronic (a CD-ROM of activities, or online virtual calendars are  available); or can be homemade -you can create your own 3-D calendar by  sewing a pocket for each day and filling it with sweets. You can count  down the days to Christmas by adding an ornament to your tree each day  that tells a part of the Christmas story, putting up pictures on a wall,  assembling parts of a puzzle, or coloring in a part of a paper candle  each day. An advent calendar often is a card or poster with 24 small  doors, one to be opened each day from December 1 until Christmas Eve.  Each door conceals a picture or Biblical verse. An Advent paper chain  can be made of 24 red and green links to mark the number of days until  Jesus’ birthday. Sometimes the links have pictures or verses on them. A  link is opened, removed, and read each day until Christmas.
  • The Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot  will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his  roots.” The Jesse tree tells through symbols the movement from the  creation story to the birth of the Messiah. You can make a Jesse tree  from a tree branch, either dry or evergreen, that has smaller branches  to hang the symbols on.
What are the ways you will choose to focus on Jesus this season? How  will you grow in your knowledge of him? How will you show those around  you the difference he has made to you and to the world? Why not invite  others to be part of the traditions you have and help them grow as well?

Wishing you all a wonderful and thoughtful Advent.

Waiting God’s  Way

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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