Second Week of Advent – Some Ideas

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John the Baptist the prophet who prepared the way for King Jesus is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth.

This post is part of a series we are doing for Advent.  For an information read the What is Advent? post.

The following are some suggestions for celebrating Advent with your family. The ideas in this post center around the tradition of lighting the Advent wreath which is normally done on the Sundays of Advent. We’ll include scripture readings, songs, and activities to accompany the lighting of the Advent candles. I provide only a few ideas, because I’m interested in what you come up with.  Feel free to share your ideas by posting a comment on this blog.

Advent Week #2

Theme: Waiting for a Miracle Son: Zechariah’s Story

Introduction: Ever have one of those days where everything goes wrong?  Imagine living in a world where everything is wrong, and you might be able to understand the world that Zechariah lived in.  First of all, Herod was king of Judea.  Judea was supposed to be ruled by a descendant of David, the great king of Israel.  But Herod through scheming, lying, and terror had grabbed the throne.  It didn’t belong to him.  An evil man is king, while Zechariah, a righteous man suffers.  It’s all backwards and everything is wrong.  But God is ready to change things.

Reading:  Luke 1:5-25

Discussion: In Zechariah’s day, people believed that if a couple couldn’t have children it was because God was punishing them for a horrible sin.  Was that true of Zechariah and Elizabeth?  How do you think they felt about not having a child?  How do you think their neighbors thought of them?  What wonderful promise did God give Zechariah and Elizabeth?  Why do you think Zechariah had trouble believing it?  Would you believe it?  Did God keep his promise?

Reading: Luke 1:57-66

Discussion: What happens to Zechariah the moment that he writes the name of his new son?  What do the people do?

Light the Advent Wreath: Light the purple candle you lit last Sunday and an additional purple candle.

Reading: Luke 1:67-79

Discussion: Did your dad sing a song when you were born?  Maybe that’s a scary thought, but Zechariah sang this song when his son John was born.  The song thanked God for keeping his promise to send a king (a horn of salvation is a symbol for a powerful king), and it described what sort of man John would grow up to be.  What will the promised king do for Israel? What will John be like? What will he do to prepare for the coming King Jesus (the Lord in verse 76)?

Closing Thought:  Zechariah’s son John grew up to be John the Baptist.  John the Baptist called the people of Israel to get ready for the promised king by admitting their sins to God and asking for his forgiveness.  We can do the same thing.  We can make room for Jesus this year as we get ready for Christmas by confessing our sins to God, asking for his forgiveness, and asking him for the strength to live a new life.

Prayer: Take some time to pray with your family. Make room for Jesus by admitting our sins to God the Father and asking him for the power to live like King Jesus did.

Activities:

  • Do a part of your preparation for Christmas.  Bake some cookies. Start decorating. Address Christmas cards.  As you work together review with your children how John the Baptist asked us to get ready for Christmas.
  • Find some in your community, who, like Zechariah, is having a difficult time and is in need for God to pick them up.  Be the answer to your own prayer by sending a card, or a plate of cookies to cheer them up and remind them that God has not forgotten them.
  • Pray for a group of people who are ruled by an evil ruler, just as Zechariah was ruled by and evil King Herod.  Pray that God “will rescue [them] from the hand of their enemies (Luke 1:74).

Song: 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Daily Bible Readings:  Here are some Bible readings you can share with your family during the week that go into more detail about Zechariah’s miracle son, John the Baptist.

  • Isaiah 40:1-5.  Isaiah prophesied that a prophet would come to prepare the way for Jesus.  John the Baptist fulfilled this promise.  He was the “voice of one calling in the desert.” (Luke 3:2-4)
  • Luke 3:1-20.  John the Baptist begins his ministry.  To get ready for the promised King the people who admitted their sin were baptized – which shows they were ready to live a new life, and they changed the way they lived.  How did the people with two tunics (shirts) change?  How did the tax collectors change? How did the soldiers change? How is God asking you to change?
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First Week of Advent – Some Ideas

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Isaiah, one of the prophets of Advent, who foretold the coming of King Jesus.

Sunday, November 27th marks the first Sunday of Advent this year. Advent is made up of the four Sundays before Christmas and is a season of waiting and preparation. We remember what it was like to Israel to wait for their king. We prepare our hearts to receive Jesus today. We remember that we too are waiting for the return of our king Jesus. (Read What is Advent? for more background on the season of Advent.)

The following are some suggestions for celebrating Advent with your family. The ideas in this post center around the tradition of lighting the Advent wreath which is normally done on the Sundays of Advent. We’ll include scripture readings, songs, and activities to accompany the lighting of the Advent candles. I provide only a few ideas, because I’m interested in what you come up with.  Feel free to share your ideas by posting a comment on this blog.

Advent Week #1

Theme: A suffering people wait for a promised king.

Background: Isaiah 9 was written during a dark time in Israel’s history.  Their kings had failed them by leading them to sin against God by worshiping idols, gods made of wood and stone. God’s judgment was imminent. Shortly after this was written, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and carried off most of its inhabitants to live in a far away land. Isaiah was sent to Israel to announce this dark future, but even with God’s judgment, there is a glimmer of hope.  That hope is what we see in Isaiah 9.  A promised king, what the Jews called the Messiah (the anointed one), was going to come and save his people.

Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7.

Discussion:  Ever been promised anything but have had to wait a long time to receive it? What are you waiting and hoping for this year for Christmas? What do you think it was like for the people of Israel who saw foreign armies come destroy their cities and take them live in a far away land? How badly do you think they wanted a king? What did they hope that this king would do for them? What does Isaiah say about this new king?  What will be like?  What will he do?

Light the Advent Wreath:  Light the purple candle opposite the pink candle. (For instructions on making an advent wreath read What is Advent?.)

Advent Song:  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Activities: 

  • Focus on a group of people who, like Israel, have had their lives destroyed by war. Discuss what it might be like for those children.  Ask what you think these children might want King Jesus to do for them. Find a catalog that gives gifts to children in poor or war-torn areas and have the children pick a gift to donate.  Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision are both organizations that provide great on-line “gifts for the poor” catalogs.
  • Have the children draw pictures of the promised King in Isaiah 9.
  • Do you have other activity ideas? Share them by posting a comment.

Prayer: Pray for the children of the world who really need King Jesus to come and save them.

Daily Bible Readings:  Here are some Bible readings you can share with your family during the week that go into more detail who about the promised King Jesus.

  • Genesis 3:14-16.  This is the first mention of promised king in the Bible.  God announces to the Serpent (Satan), that a child of Eve  (or descendant), will destroy Satan and the evil that has corrupted the world. “You will strike his heel” (the crucifixion) and “he will crush your head” (Jesus’ death and resurrection).
  • Psalm 2.  This psalm is a description of the power of our promised king Jesus.
  • Daniel 7:14-15. A vision of King Jesus’ ascension from heaven’s perspective.  Notice that Jesus’ kingdom is a forever kingdom.
  • 2 Samuel 7:11-14.  God promises Israel’s King David that a son (descendant) will rule over a forever kingdom.  Throughout the gospels and Christmas stories Jesus is called the “Son of David”.  
  • Jeremiah 23:5-6.  Jeremiah, God’s prophet predicts that a “Son of David” will come to rule and protect God’s people.
  • Micah 5:2-4.  The king promised to Israel will be born in Bethlehem.  Remember where Jesus was born?  This king will also be a shepherd, a protector for God’s people.  Do you remember when Jesus said “I am the great shepherd.”

What is Advent?

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A simple Advent Wreath with three purple candles, a pink “joy” candle (3rd Sunday) and the white Christ candle (Christmas).

The end of November conjures images of Black Friday and children climbing the walls in anticipation of Christmas.  My youngest daughter is already counting down the days and we haven’t even hit Thanksgiving yet.  The questions on our children’s minds are quite simple: How long until the day comes?  What will my present be like? Will we be ready?

Advent, Latin for “coming” and the first season of the Christian Year, asks those same questions.  On the four Sundays before Christmas Day, the church remembers what it was like for the people of Israel to wait for the coming of their Messiah (the promised king would bring peace and justice to the world).  They wondered what will this Messiah would be like.  When will he come?  How can I get ready?

While we remember the past, we also realize that Jesus must come into our hearts today.  We sing about it every year.

Joy to the world the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.  Let every heart prepare him room.

Your family will be rushing around making frantic preparations for Christmas. Christmas cards and letters, purchasing gifts, preparing for Christmas parties, baking Christmas cookies, and cooking for the relatives who will be visiting. While these preparations are important, Advent invites us to stop and think. What does it mean for us to prepare room in our own lives for Jesus today?

Advent is also a look into the future. We wait for the return of King Jesus, just as Israel waited for their king. We know that the world is broken and we are waiting for the greatest gift of all, Jesus.  Imagine a gift that never wears out or breaks, but lasts forever. Advent reminds us that waiting for presents is good, but the gift of Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

The beautiful thing is that your kids are already counting down the days for Christmas.  They know what it means to wait for a special gift.  They can understand how it felt for the Israelites to ask “how long?”  You don’t have to get them into the mood for Advent.  They’re already there.

We’ll be celebrating Advent during the next four weeks at church, but we’d like to encourage you to incorporate your own Advent traditions at home.  At the center of the Advent tradition is the Advent wreath.  The most basic wreath consists of three purple candles, a pink candle, and a white candle placed in the center.  One purple candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent.  The second Sunday a second purple candle is lit.  On the third you include the pink candle.  On the fourth the final purple candle is added.  At Christmas the white Christ candle is lit in honor of the coming of Christ.

Each week, we’ll provide you with some simple ideas for making the lighting of the Advent wreath a special event.  We’ll include scriptures to read, discussion ideas, activities, Advent carols that can be sung, and additional Bible references if you’d like to go deeper. But we don’t want this to be a one-way conversation.  What ideas do you have?  Please share them with us by posting a comment on the blog.  It is not easy to keep our families from falling into the crazy commercialism of Christmas, but together we can begin to reclaim space to remember the true gift of the Season.

Being Present

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listening

More than our money, more than gifts, our children crave our undivided attention.

You know you’re old when you start complaining about “kids these days.”  Kids these days never pay attention.  You try and carry on a conversation with them and they are texting their friend, updating their Facebook relationship status to “complicated”, all while doing a poor job of pretending that they are listening to you.

This constant state of distraction struck me the other day as I was reading a book on evangelism the other day (AKA Lost  by Jim Henderson for those who are interested.)  The book argues that more than money, or success, what people crave the most is someone’s undivided and complete attention. I think that is true, but as technology creeps out of our computer desks and entertainment centers and into our pockets in the form of smartphones, this is something that gets harder and harder to do.  Not just for the kids, but especially for me.

CS Lewis points out in his book, the Four Loves, that adults are far ruder with their own children than any other people they interact with.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times my own daughters have had to yell “… Dad …. DAD! … DAD!!!!!”, before I’ve responded. Lately, they begun to use this annoying flaw to their advantage.

Child: “Dad I can I stay up until 3:00 AM watching movies?”  Me: “Yeah sure”

Child: “Dad can I light the dog on fire?” Me: “Ok”

We would never dream of treating our boss or a good friend this way.  Yet time and time again I have missed the opportunity to communicate the love of God in a language they can understand, Dad’s undivided attention. My kids to their credit are very forgiving and usually just shake their heads and roll their eyes.  I appreciate that about them.  But this thought has occurred to me:  how can I expect them to care about what I have to say, if my distraction sends the message that I don’t care what they have say?

This has great implications when it comes to sharing the gospel.  Jesus never used the same approach as he shared the gospel with people.  Why?  Because he knew them as individuals.  I’m sure being God helped, but more importantly he listened to people.  He knew them.  He was in tune with what they needed.  To Zaccheus the tax-collecter, Jesus invited himself to dinner.  He asked the woman at the well to find her husband (she had seven and she wasn’t married to the guy she was living with).  Jesus tells her, “You’ve gone to the well seven times and you are still thirsty.  I have living water to give you and you’ll never thirst again.”  To the rich young ruler, Jesus says, “sell your possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.”  Different people, and Jesus knows how to approach each one uniquely.  He’s paid attention.

I’m trying to learn how to stop, pay attention, and listen to my children.  I want them to know that they are valuable enough to deserve my undivided attention.  I want to understand how they give and receive love.  What’s important to them?  What part of the gospel will be difficult for them to believe?  How can I pray for them?  These questions can’t be answered unless we are still enough to listen.

Where does discipleship of children begin?  I believe it begins with prayer and paying attention.

Praying with Purpose

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Rembrandt's Prodigal Son

The dutiful, obedient older brother with folded hands misses the gospel and his Father's embrace. (Luke 15:11-32)

In the last two posts we’ve explored the connection between prayer and surrender. In prayer we come to grips with our powerlessness to affect change in our children. We let go of our parent dreams of happiness, safety, and success in favor of God’s more dangerous and compelling dream of using triumph, failure, joy, and sadness to mold your son or daughter into the image of Christ.  But while we surrender to God in prayer, we do not surrender our responsibility to pray with directness, specificity, and expectation.

The story of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32) tells us that everyone has a heart motivation that drives us from God, the Father.  It exists in everyone from the openly rebellious pagan (the younger son) to the dutiful, moral religious person (the older brother).  If God’s purpose was to make moral people, then praying for your child to behave would be enough. Jesus calls us to a higher life that is more than doing the right thing.  It is living a life that is motivated by a devotion to God and a love for our neighbor.  Good deeds inspired  by a wrong heart motivation will cause us to miss the feast of God’s grace.

Here’s what I mean.  I was a dutiful son.  Not perfect. I had a real temper as my brothers and sister can attest to, but I had a real drive to meet the expectations of those around me.  That heart motivation made me a moral person.  I didn’t rebel as a teenager.  I did well in school. I had friends.  I didn’t experiment with drugs or alcohol.  I didn’t get anyone pregnant. Why? Because, I wanted my parents to be proud of me.  I wanted the admiration of my peers.

How can you pray with desperation for such a son?  What more does God want than a child who stays clean, does well in school, and is liked by his peers?  God wanted my heart.  He wanted me to do all these things because I loved Him, but I was motivated by a heart of fear. What if I fail?  What if you don’t like me?  What if you are disappointed?

Blaise Pascal the brilliant mathematician and a faithful follower of Jesus wrote:

We do not keep ourselves virtuous by our own power, but by the counterbalance of two opposing vices, just as we stay upright between two contrary winds.  Take one of these vices away and we fall into the other.

I was an upright child because my desires to be outwardly rebellious were held in check by my fear of losing approval.  But what happened when I was alone and there was no one watching?  What about those times when following Jesus means losing the approval of those whose opinions I valued?  What if sticking up for the bullied kid means earning the scorn of your friends? What if the winds change and my desire to be liked is no longer aligned with drive to be good?

How do I need prayer?  I need to hear daily the words that Jesus heard at his baptism, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  Only when those words become real will I be able to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and live a life of devotion to God.  A life that sacrifices the self in order to live courageously for the other.  It’s more than being a nice person. I needed to know that through the gospel, my righteousness comes not from the opinions of others, but is a gift from Jesus that is received by faith.  Could you imagine how my life would be different if I actually believed that?

All children are unique, but what they have in common is a heart motivation that left alone will drive them from their Heavenly Father. My heart was driven for a desperate search for approval.  Others are driven by winning, control, popularity, being right, being free from rules, a desire to live in comfort and never do anything unpleasant, or finding a boy or girl who will satisfy their hearts.  These motivations may push your child to be “successful” or they may drive them into the pig sty of failure, but either way they are far from their true Father’s home.  God is not about making them productive members of society, but true sons and daughters who are moved by the love of God.

Take some time today and study your children.  What is it that drives my son or daughter’s heart? Ask your spouse for help and invite the Holy Spirit to show you.  As you understand your child’s heart, then begin to ask the question: ” How can the gospel speak to that heart motivation?”  “What aspect of the gospel needs to become real to them?”  And then pray with boldness and real conviction.