Crafting Sacred Space in a Hectic Time
A baby cries out and is hushed. In the quiet, a donkey brays and stamps its foot in the scattered hay. A lone flame trembles in the wind and a weary young mother studies the face of her child, her Savior. She is both kept and lost in the holy moment. Suddenly, the sound of a lightsaber splits the quiet, and Darth Vader appears to announce the birth of Christ!
What? This story seems absurd! Darth Vader appears as a sharp interruption to the birth of Christ. But, during our typical Advent, this is often how we tell the story to our children: with commercialism and busy schedules. Star Wars advent calendars aren’t inherently wrong. But we shortchange our children if our only presentation of Christmas is a branded one. In a world where Disney has trademarked Advent, how do we create sacred space in the lives of our children for Christmas?
REFLECTING ON ADVENT
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” Advent calls Christians to a time of reflection and preparation. We remember with thankfulness Christ’s first coming, and we also look with anticipation for when he returns to set all things right. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” we sing. Advent is not looking only to the infant Christ, but also to the Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father.
While there are many ideas and rituals to create space for this sacred reflection, ranging from easy to elaborate, doing so is not a complicated task. If you recall a moment when you encountered the eternal, the setting likely included only a few simple elements, such as candles, a song, a place in creation, or a piece of artwork. Consider such experiences in preparing for Advent.
The following is a list of practical ways you can cultivate sacred space for your family during Advent. Although not exhaustive, it will hopefully provide a helpful starting point.
A Simple Start
If you’re not sure where to begin, start simple. Dim the lights, set out candles, and have your family speak in quiet tones. Let your children take turns lighting or snuffing out the candles. Our boys experience a palpable excitement when we watch the nativity of our German pyramid spin around in the heat of the flames. While unable to articulate the feeling, the boys sense a mystery and holiness at the moment as we usher our family into the presence of God.
A daily reading appears daunting, but you only need ten minutes from your evening routine. Craft an appropriate rhythm for your family, or follow this suggestion: dim the lights and light the candles, read a passage, say a prayer, extinguish the candles, and exit the room quietly.
You can purchase a myriad of books with daily advent readings or find stories or Scripture readings online. You can also purchase a candle set such as a German pyramid, angel chimes, or a cradle-to-cross wreath. Make your own Advent wreath as a family, or simply set out a variety of candles you already own. If you have squirrely children, staple paper to make an Advent book and have your children draw a picture as they listen to each reading. Alternate reading from a children’s Bible, or have the smallest child ring a bell to begin and end the sacred advent time.
Crèche (Nativity Scene)
A nativity set can create a place of reflection or anticipation in your home. Many styles are available to buy, or you can paint an unfinished set as a family. If you usually place baby Jesus in the stable immediately, try putting him away until Christmas morning. The change may spark conversation.
Each year, as you arrange the nativity, you can read the story of Christ’s birth. As an adaptation, have younger children use the nativity to act out the story as you read.
Calendars come in every type. They are opened daily and used as a countdown till Christmas Day. If Darth Vader is on the other side of the door, remember to take time and connect to what’s true.
Chrismons and the Jesse Tree are easy ways to incorporate your Christmas tree into the practice of Advent. Chrismon means “symbol of Christ” and includes symbols from the Bible and the early church. Discuss the significance behind one Chrismon each day of Advent and hang it on your tree. Older children can choose a favorite and research the meaning to share with the family.
Similarly, the Jesse tree uses ornaments to teach about the people, prophecies, and events leading up to Jesus’ birth. The ornaments connect the story of God in the Old Testament to the Advent season and the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history. If you buy unfinished Chrismons and Jesse Tree ornaments, have your youngest children decorate one each night while you discuss it. The smallest child can choose where to hang each on the tree.
Discussion & Prayer
Discussion and prayer can be a daily or weekly part of your Advent season. For example, learn about the many titles of Jesus in the Bible. As part of this study, explain why Emmanuel means “God with Us,” then give young children magazines to collage pictures showing ways they feel close to God. Older children can create an Advent journal and write their responses to each lesson or keep a prayer journal for the family. Use Christmas cards to begin praying for others, or choose a person or place weekly.
Advent is a great time to be ecumenical. If your church doesn’t offer a weekly Advent service, try visiting one at a local church or a friend’s congregation. Also, look for a Lessons & Carols service, which pairs music with Scripture to tell the story of salvation.
Music can be central to Advent. If you’re a musical family, print a few hymns or carols and sing them as a family. The youngest children can bang a drum or shake some bells. Listen to music during your reflection or play it in the background. Don’t rely solely on contemporary versions. Locate hymns or carols sung by a church choir to give an added gravitas to the music.
FIND THE SPACE AND PACE
If you choose to begin an Advent practice, start with just one. While Pinterest has a lifetime’s worth of Christ-centered activities, proceed with caution. Evaluate your choices: Do they create sacred space for your family, and do they set a holy pace for the season? Done well, Advent should feel countercultural, like swimming upstream in a river of Amazon boxes. Your family should notice a slowing and find in that place anticipation, not just for Christmas, but for what comes beyond!