Today is the second day of Advent and so far we have put up just a small Christmas tree given to us by a relative and have lit one candle on the advent wreath. (If you are not familiar with the liturgical or church calendar and why we celebrate this season of longing and anticipation, there's a good collection of explanations at Go to Bethlehem and See, our favorite advent blog.)
Yesterday, our pastor used the children's moment to light the first advent candle and handed out little toy advent wreaths to all the children, complete with plush candles stuck on with velcro. I was glad that Jacob has something to put in his room as a reminder of this season, but there's just something better about real candles! Yes, even with a one and a three year-old.
The mystery, the twinkle of the light, the darkness that slowly gets pushed back as Christmas day draws nearer...those are the things I love about this season and the gradual lighting of the wreath.
It also helps teach me patience. And apparently advent is a proper lesson in patience for the little ones as well. Yesterday afternoon we read some of the section from Isaiah from The Jesus Storybook Bible as we "lit" the first plush purple candle on Jacob and Ethan's toy advent wreath. We talked about how God had sent his prophets to anticipate the coming of the Messiah, of Jesus, and how now we are waiting to celebrate his birth, just as we wait for His second coming to earth. And I explained that now that we have lit the first candle we have to wait an entire week to light the next one.
A whole week?! That's an eternity in a child's eyes. And sure enough, not only did Jacob want to light the second candle of the Advent wreath TODAY, he also wanted to open his presents (I have some very organized relatives who sent us home from Thanksgiving complete with wrapped gifts!). So, hopefully, each week his anticipation will grow as he awaits the celebration to come. Since he has been denied yet another immediate pleasure, just imagine his joy on Christmas morning as he receives those gifts and relishes in the delight of opening them and celebrating God's greatest gift of His Son.
The following from this Advent devotional is a good reminder of why we give our children gifts at Christmas in the first place. (As are these thoughts on the generosity of the season.) But I think what struck me the most is that I'm reading them at a time when we are finishing up a study of I John, the letter against the Gnostics. May I be reminded that Christ came to demonstrate his love for us in a real, physical way while we were yet sinners, and so we who are in Christ should also demonstrate that love in real ways to our family, our friends, and everyone we encounter this season.
The Advent of Jesus Christ is the most materialistic, the most physical, the most worldly message of the Bible. The Word, who we know is Jesus Christ, became flesh. He became human, a person, a baby, flesh and blood; yes, a real, live, crying, eating, sleeping baby boy. For a period of some thirty plus years, God the Son lived here on planet earth. John says that he and his friends beheld Jesus' glory. Like Bobby squealing with delight over a new bicycle, the disciples experienced the excitement of standing next to Jesus, eating lunch with Jesus, sitting at a lesson listening to Jesus, and watching Jesus teach, preach, and perform miracles.
Jesus is the ultimate Christmas gift. But the gift of Christ is not something that we can put into a holy box labeled "Spiritual." Rather, a flesh and blood Christ came into this physical world to save us in the here and now, as well as in eternity. His coming here on earth in the flesh gives us the greatest of reasons to truly enjoy all the physical gifts of God, including bicycles.