Friday, November 20, 2015

Exploring Advent

“I get to open the box tonight!” sang Joy Lin.  “Nuh-uh… It’s my turn.  You opened it last night,” Bekah retorted.  Knowing he had a better idea, John played it cool.  “Fine, but I get to light the candles.”  This is Advent season in the Husted home, and yes, even with the kids married and moved away this is still how dinner starts when we’re all together.  Advent is a serious season for our family, but it is also a season of joy and celebration.  It is a tradition that the Husteds have carried for 35 years as a way of keeping the Christ Child the center of the Christmas season.

      What is Advent?  It is the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays, ending on Christmas Eve.  Many churches and families celebrate using an Advent Wreath, a wreath with four perimeter candles and one center candle, which represents Christ, with a variation of what each candle in the wreath represents.  Our family celebrates Prophecy and Planning the first week, Bethlehem and Preparation the second week, Shepherds and Sharing the third week, and Angles and Joy the final week.  Each Sunday a candle is lit in addition to the previous Sunday’s candles, and on Christmas Eve they are all lit along with the Christ candle. 

The Advent box we speak of is similar to an Advent calendar with a door representing each day of the Advent season.  Each day of the Advent season a small door in the box is opened and behind that door is something.  Sometimes it just a piece of paper with a devotion, sometimes there is a Christmas tree ornament, or even crazy things like a battleship.   But each item in the box comes with a story, devotion, or activity that reminds us the true meaning of Christmas.  Dr. Ben Husted states in his book Christmas out of the Advent Box, “The power of the Advent box comes from the way it centers our lives on Jesus for that all-important season leading up to Christmas.  After filling our calendar with the events, activities, stories, books, Scriptures, and movies, our family has a daily exposure to some relevant truth or application from Scripture.” 
When Ben, my father-in-law, was writing the Advent book, he asked each of us to write a short essay about what Advent and the traditions meant to us.  The first week, Prophecy and Planning, while a bit daunting, has become one of my favorites.  It is amazing to be able to look in the Old Testament of the Bible and then fast forward to the New Testament and see things that God said will happen, happen. 
A devotion for the week one:
What are your plans?
Read Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (NIV) and read Matthew 1:22-23: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’” (NIV)
The Christmas season is one of the busiest and most rushed of the year.  It helps tremendously to take time during the first week to sit down with your family, with a calendar, and plan events and a menu for the next few weeks.  A menu on paper, which you can then use for grocery shopping, really cuts back on the stress of the holidays.
During the second week of Advent we celebrate Bethlehem and Preparation week, and we typically make gingerbread houses.  Why?  Because Bethlehem means “house of bread.”   Although we do not get as elaborate as some, we still have a fun time.  Using graham crackers as our walls and roofs and melted almond bark or decorators icing to hold things together, we take off from there.  With bowls of gumdrops, M&Ms, tic-tacs, mini marshmallows, lifesavers, coconut flakes, and a variety of other fun candies and eatable items we each create a unique house. . .or barn or shed. . .or “I’m not sure what this is.”  I remember one year my mother-in-law built a beautiful cottage while my father-in-law built a barn any dairyman would be proud to own.  It can be a fun contest to see who even has walls still standing at the end of the day.

A devotion for week two
Read Micah 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
It took God a lot of preparation to get things into place for Jesus birth in Bethlehem.  Take time this week to prepare for the weeks ahead.  Are you going to make cookies?  Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.  Are you going to put up Christmas lights?  Buy extra bulbs. 
Where is Christ in all of this?  Are you preparing your hearts to receive Jesus anew?  This is very much what Advent is about.  Yes, Jesus came, and He is coming again.  But right now, Jesus lives in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Prepare to welcome Him once again.
Shepherds and Sharing are the focus of week three.  One of our big eating traditions during this week is to share a meal outside “like the shepherds.”  This has led to some memorable meals, since when that’s in the box we eat outside come rain or shine. Bekah still doesn’t let us forget a celebratory dinner that happened outside one year: Eating steaks outside in the middle of December is a unique experience.  Despite the shepherds’ lack of conveniences, Luke 2:8 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” they also got to spread the word about the birth of the Christ. Luke 2:17-18  “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  How awesome is that?
A Devotion for week three
Make several loaves of Buttermilk Cinnamon Bread and deliver them to neighbors.  Include a note with each loaf sharing the good news like the shepherds did.
The forth week, the Angle and Joy week, varies in length, depending on which day of the week Christmas falls.  That being said, angles play a HUGE part in the Christmas season, from telling Mary, a virgin, that she would conceive the Christ child, to announcing the birth to the shepherds.  What joy both of those events are! 
A devotion for week four
 Read Matthew 2:10, Luke 1:41, 46-67, 58; 2:10
The point: Jesus intends for us to have fun and enjoy life, especially at Christmas.  We find references to joy and rejoicing in the Christmas story…. Tonight we are going to do something just for fun:  play some board games.  First Scrabble, but our words can be capitalized words, as long as they have to do with Christmas.  Anytime we use a word having to do with Christmas, the points earned for that word are doubled.  (Adapt other games of your choice.)
            The last candle we light on Christmas Eve is the Christ candle, along with that, every year for as long as any one remembers is a little block wood wrapped in Christmas paper.  We read Matthew 2:11and talk about how the wise men gave gifts to Jesus to express their love for Him – God’s greatest Gift!   After a great meal of stew and cornbread, we open gifts. 
This closes out our Advent season for this year.  We have gained sweet, fun memories to carry us into next year.  With this tradition, a family bond and a deeper love for Christ, has been created that will last a lifetime

Buttermilk Cinnamon Bread
(Makes eight 8”x3.75”x2.5” loaf pans)
12 cups all purpose flour
6 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups canola oil
6 ½ cups sugar, divided (put 4 ½ cups in dough and save 2 cups for middle and topping)
6 cups buttermilk
6 eggs
2 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
4 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts or pecans, for garnish

In a small bowl mix 2 cups sugar and cinnamon, set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  In a smaller bowl combine oil and 4 ½ cups sugar.  Add buttermilk and eggs; ix well.  Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.  Spray pans with cooking spray.  Put 1 cup batter in each pan.  Top with 1/8 cup cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Put 1 more cup of batter on top of that and sprinkle with another 1/8 cup cinnamon/sugar mixture and sprinkle with nuts.  Bake 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Cool; then wrap with clear wrap and decorate as desired.  Loaves may be frozen for giving later. 

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