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Advent devotions keep family’s eyes on Jesus

During most of the year, our family gathers each evening for a Bible story and song. But we take a break from our regular devotions for the month of Advent. Instead, we sit at the dining room table around a lovely handcrafted Advent tree, a gift from my father-in-law.

Simple Advent devotions
First, my husband lights one or more candles, depending how close we are to Christmas. Then we choose a Chrismon (a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol) to hang on the tree. My husband leads an impromptu devotion based on the symbol we’ve chosen, and we conclude with a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The short devotions are often simple. The cross reminds us that Jesus died to take away our sins. The shell reminds us that God forgave our sins and brought us into his family through baptism. The lamb is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Sometimes our devotions are little more complex. We may talk about the fish being an ancient Christian symbol because the letters of the Greek word for fish stand for Jesus. We may talk about the Chi-Ro, which looks like a P with an X on top. These two letters are the first letters of the Greek word “Christos,” which means Christ.

Our five oldest kids (4, 6, 8, 10, 11) take turns doing different jobs. One chooses the Chrismon, another places it on the tree, a third child turns out the lights, a fourth child passes out the music, and a fifth has the favorite job of blowing out the candles. Because our youngest will be turning 3 this Advent season, he will be part of the devotions as well. I suppose we will need a sixth job . . . but I don’t think we’re ready to let the kids take turns lighting the candles!

A meaningful tradition
With a houseful of young children, I wouldn’t exactly call our Advent devotions peaceful. And the proximity of children to open flames keeps my husband and me at the edge of our seats. But all of us look forward to this simple family tradition. Not only does it distract us from the hustle and bustle of the season, it also keeps our eyes on our coming Savior.

Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wis. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. 

Treasured bedtime prayers and hymns

When our oldest child was a baby, we established a bedtime routine of stories, prayers, and hymns.  

We have a set of four prayers that we speak or sing each night. We speak “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” sing stanzas two and three of “Now the Light Has Gone Away” (Christian Worship [CW] 593), sing a bedtime prayer that has been used by at least two generations in my family, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. This was my childhood bedtime routine, and I’m happy that it is being passed down to my own children. 

After these nightly prayers, everyone gives good-night hugs and kisses to one another, and then my husband or I tuck our two littlest children into their beds and sing them a hymn. Some favorites have been “Jesus, Shepherd of the Sheep” (CW 436), “Children of the Heavenly Father” (CW 449), and “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” (CW 432).  

Sometimes we sing songs that match the seasons of the church year. Last fall, we often sang all four stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (CW 200 and 201). The kids quickly memorized the entire hymn, and they joyfully sang along at the Reformation services we attended. At Christmastime, we often sing “Away in a Manger” (CW 68). Our three-year-old daughter loves “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (CW 61), while our five-year-old son’s favorite is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” (CW 152). Now they request those hymns all year long! 

As our children have gotten older, we’ve added a new tradition after our nightly bedtime prayers. We help the kids to create their own prayers. We ask them to share things for which they’re thankful and think of people for whom to pray. Then we put their thanks and requests into a prayer. As the children have gotten older, we encourage them to think of and speak their own prayers. Then, my husband and I also add our own prayers.  

Sometimes the kids’ prayers reflect their age. After a Christmas of Frozen-themed gifts, our youngest daughter thanked Jesus for her Frozen castle, water bottle, and suitcase—for three months! But as they’ve grown, we have seen them learn to recognize that people around them need prayers. Our children pray for family members or friends who are hurting and people affected by disasters in the world. They also thank God for blessings big and small. 

Busy family schedules sometimes keep all of us from participating in bedtime routines every night. So, we try to find a little time to connect with them every evening on a meaningful level before they go to bed. It doesn’t always work, but it is our goal. We hope that the habits we’ve established with our bedtime routine will last throughout our children’s lives, and they will create a bedtime routine for their children that helps them to pass on the faith too. 

Emily Gresens Strey and her husband, Johnold, have four children ranging in age from 3 to 13.  

Christmas traditions point us to Jesus

“How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Change?! We’ve always had that light bulb!”

Sometimes we Lutherans can get the reputation for being resistant to change. We’ve always parked in the same spot in the church parking lot. We’ve always sat in the same pew. We’ve always brought the same dish to the church potluck.

But our hesitancy to change isn’t always bad. It’s rooted in our understanding of the value of traditions. Traditions help us learn. Our little Lutherans know the liturgy with ever growing understanding because they hear those same words spoken every week in church. We celebrate baptisms and confirmations to show that they’re special. Traditions teach us values and important truths.

And if there’s any part of the year that’s steeped in traditions, it’s the Christmas season. So many Christmas traditions are designed to point us to Jesus. So if we want to keep our kids (and ourselves) focused on Jesus at Christmastime, let’s consider focusing on connecting Jesus to the traditions we already have.

  • Do your kids participate in a children’s Christmas program? Be a part of it! Help them memorize their parts and look up the Bible verses in their context. Show your children how they point to Jesus.
  • Do you have a nativity scene? Consider letting the kids play with it (or buy an inexpensive one they can use). Don’t set out all the pieces at once. Let the kids move Mary and Joseph across the room a little each day during Advent. Put the baby in the manger for the first time on Christmas morning. Then add the shepherds and start the Magi on their journey down the hall to join the scene by Epiphany. Talk about the story and anticipate the joy of the Savior’s birth.
  • Do you buy and eat candy canes? Teach your children how the red and white stripes remind us of the red blood Jesus shed for us, which makes us pure and white as snow. Show them the Good Shepherd’s staff which, when turned upside down, makes a “J” for Jesus.
  • Do you decorate a tree in the living room? Teach your children the symbolism behind the tree and its decorations. The lights remind us that Jesus is the light of the world who rescued us from sin. The angel or star remind us of the good news proclaimed. The garland that seems to wrap around the tree endlessly, and the tree itself—that’s evergreen and points to the sky—reminds us of the beautiful eternity that awaits us in heaven one day soon.

What traditions do you have? What do you do to help you and your family celebrate Christmas? How have you used those traditions to focus on Jesus and on the eternal peace that he gives? Engage in the online discussion here and share your traditions in the comments below. Maybe one from your family will help my family and others look to Jesus this Christmas.