We’ve loosely celebrated Advent in previous years, but this is the first year that we are observing it properly it seems. Advent is the eager anticipation of Christ Jesus come down, His incarnation in to the world, God made accessible and relatable and so very present in our lives.
Each year, the four weeks leading up to Christmas day have been used as a time for meditating on His coming, through various traditions and practices. There’s nothing quite like having children to move you to instill a sense of reverence in them and of the way God moves in the world and in relationship with humankind. Each day you wake up hoping you can raise them right, and I’ve been finding that following the historic church calendar is one of the best ways to help children realise their place in Creation, history, and the Church as a whole.
We have an Advent Calendar hanging on our wall, with a pocket for each day in December leading up to Christmas. When we are sitting and drinking our tea together after breakfast each morning, Taylor or I help hoist Margot up to count the number of the days until we’ve landed on the present day. She then reaches her small fingers inside to remove the surprise treat of either a piece of chocolate or dried fruit, along with a folded paper containing a special prayer for that day, which we then read together. These are written by Jon Birch and taken from his website FaithAndWorship.com. His prayers are just lovely, full of deep imagery, and are often in the tradition of the Celtic Christians.
God of hope, who brought love into this world,
be the love that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought peace into this world,
be the peace that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought joy into this world,
be the joy that dwells between us.
God of hope, the rock we stand upon,
be the centre, the focus of our lives
always, and particularly this Advent time.
– John Birch
It’s really sweet watching her expectation each day as she looks to the Advent calendar, or “the number tree” as she refers to it, with such growing anticipation of Christmas just around the corner. Children respond so well to these kind of practices, and I appreciate that it’s such a calm, meaningful way of preparing for the profound meaning behind this season of the year.
This year we also have our own Advent wreath of candles to light, one by one on each Sunday leading up to Christmas day. There are four candles in the wreath, one pink and three purple. Each week a candle is lit in addition to the previous. The Advent wreath, or Advent crown as it is sometimes referred to, is full of deep symbolism and meaning. The circular shape itself points to the unending love of God, and the traditional greenery used in its construction represents the life and hope to be found in Christ’s coming. The candles themselves clearly represent the light of Christ come down to us, but each individual candle is counting down the weeks until Christmas day itself.
The first candle represents Hope, the second represents Peace, the third represents Joy, and the fourth represents Love. Sometimes a fifth center candle is included, which is lit on Christmas Eve of Christmas Day to usher in the beginning of Christmastide, the official, liturgical beginning of Christmas celebrations. This candle is often called the “Christ Candle”.
The candles themselves may be a variety of colours, following a variety of traditions. In my experience, I’ve typically seen them as either purple or rose coloured though, which is the colour of Advent and its vestments during this particular season of the liturgical year. Often candles one, two, and four are purple, and the third one is rose in colour, representing a pause in the season of penitence to celebrate and rejoice. The Christ Candle is often white, as this is the ushering in of a new season in the liturgical calendar in which the vestments are now white. Often though, all four candles will be the same colour: white, red, blue, or even a lovely, natural beeswax.
Each Sunday afternoon I prepare a fresh pot of tea for us and then peel and section some oranges to lay out with the gingerbread cookies or another treat we usually buy from a local bakery (hey, I can’t make everything myself all the time, haha). Cassian contentedly sucking on orange slices and watching the proceedings, Taylor guides Margot’s hand to help her light the candles on our Advent wreath, using an extra long match used for lighting the pilot light in water heaters (pro-tip right there). Her gentle, three year old face is always so full of reverence and awe at the participation in such a meaningful ritual.
With Frankincense and myrrh incense also burning in the background, Taylor then reads the Bible readings for the week, and follows them with a special devotional written by a dear friend of mine, which can be accessed at her new collaborative project, Signs and Seasons. Truly thought provoking reflections. We then read a few prayers written for Advent from a favourite book of ours, Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community, and then sing a few Christmas Carols to close. And I admit, we don’t know any of the Advent Carols we’re technically supposed to be singing at this point in the year, so I think that’s just something we’ll work on getting right next year, haha.
Altogether, it’s a short and simple time of reading and contemplating Christ, just the perfect length of time really, for children so young. I confess I do crave a good, long service of prayers and readings for myself, but that’s hard to pull off during these years as a young mother. I look forward to times like that in the years to come, but this has still truly been a lovely experience so far just as it is.
Restore us, O Lord, we pray,
bring us back to that place
where we once met,
as shepherds to the stable
after hearing angels sing.
Bring us back to that place
when our love was fresh,
to express itself in praise
to our heavenly King.
Restore us, O Lord, we pray.
– John Birch